Do we Want to Lose The Fight Against Mental Illness?

December 29, 2017
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Do we Want to Lose The Fight Against Mental Illness?

No reasonable person would say that we should lose the fight against mental illness. Unfortunately, if action is a measure of intention, it sure doesn’t seem like a battle we’re very interested in winning. Resources and funding for mental health treatment and support aren’t adequate. It’s still highly stigmatized. If you’re a college student, chances are you or at least one of your peers is struggling with this right now.

The Numbers: Stats And Data on Mental Illness in 2017

According to data recently compiled by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in any given year. There is increased access to mental health services. However, that only applies to states that expanded medicaid after the ACA passed, and recent legislative decisions certainly cast doubt on the future availability. 56% of those with mental illness do not receive treatment. Over half struggle with substance abuse. That’s clearly an issue on college campuses.

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Addressing college students specifically, the numbers are pretty discouraging. 60% or fewer of students struggling with mental illness seek help. Out of students who complete the act of suicide only 15% sought and received help on campus. Over the past few years, the number of students who self-harmed or seriously considered it has gone up.

Struggling With Depression And Other Mental Illness Without Help

Binge drinking is a major issue among college students. This is especially true among Freshman. It’s easy to assume that all of this partying is celebrating newfound freedom from parental supervision. In truth, it’s often a coping mechanism for depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

College isn’t only about tackling intellectual challenges, getting involved on campus, and enjoying new social experiences. It’s also being physically isolated from the familiar, home, friends, and family. Social media, while it helps people stay connected, can serve to make students feel even more alone. It’s hard for a struggling student not to feel bad when they’re seeing carefully curated posts and images depicting only the good things in others’ lives.

In addition to situational stress and depression, the college years are typically when more serious mental illnesses begin to emerge. These include major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Unfortunately, many people cannot or will not get help or support. Instead, they simply struggle alone. Because mental illness often limits the ability to socialize or reach out to support systems, those suffering become increasingly isolated. This creates a painful cycle. For some, it’s financial need that prevents them from accessing services.

Of course, it would be irresponsible to ignore the role of stigmatization of mental illnesses and millennials and gen z. Depression and anxiety are often seen as made-up illnesses, and self-appointed keyboard physicians suggest unhelpful remedies such as ‘growing up’, ‘dealing with it’, or ‘not being a crybaby’. College students also struggle with being labeled as weak, incapable, snowflakes. Add that to the stigmatization that people with mental health have faced for years and it’s no wonder students balk at getting help.

A Lack of Qualified Mental Health Providers

For those who do seek help, access to qualified help can be a problem both on campus and off. This is partially due to an overall shortage of psychiatrists and people entering the field of psychiatry. Those living in poor areas are even more impacted by these shortages.

The shortage of qualified mental health providers extends to college campuses as well. Because health centers are short staffed, students can wait weeks to receive an evaluation.

Colleges And Universities: A Need For Better on Campus Support And Response

Unfortunately, many colleges and universities have policies that not only fail to address mental health adequately, they also serve to discourage students from getting help out of fear of punishment or embarrassment. A student who attempted suicide at Princeton was evicted from the dorms and had to sue in order to be readmitted to the school and undergo a humiliating revealing of his personal health records. Other campuses have policies that penalize students that self-harm as well.

Students may also be involuntarily admitted to mental facilities even when they are not a danger to themselves or others. A student in crisis may find themselves facing campus police officers who are not trained in dealing with those situations, creating potential danger for all involved. Then there is the issue of drugs and alcohol. Campus policies and zero tolerance rules don’t take mental illness and the use of substances as a coping mechanism into consideration.

Finally, in spite of the fact that the Americans With Disabilities Act states that colleges must provide accommodations to students suffering from mental illness, many fail to do so. Instead of allowing students smaller course loads and extended deadlines, for example, students are penalized.

Conclusion: Lack of Understanding of Mental Illness is The Major Factor

Ultimately, ignorance is a major factor. As long as people don’t understand that mental illness is common, that it impacts not only the health of the individuals that suffer from it but the community as well they won’t push for improvements. Sadly, this is an issue that people don’t want to act on until it impacts them directly.