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Behind the Negative Stigma of Mental Health

By Melanie Spina
Opinions Editor

On March 17, the university issued a campus-wide email stating that a female had been found near campus in a suicide attempt. The news impacted our campus greatly. While I was extremely glad to hear that she was okay, I couldn’t help but wonder about how much awareness of mental illnesses there is among college students.

According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental health organization, approximately 43.8 million adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. However, in the past year, only 41 percent of adults with a mental health condition actually received mental health services. The remaining 59 percent do not seek help for multiple reasons, like expensive mental health care or because of the negative stigma that is attached to mental health. NAMI also states that adults in the U.S. who live with a serious mental illness, but do not obtain treatment, tend to die on average 25 years earlier than those who do, or those not affected. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Yet, mental illness is usually not talked about as much as physical illnesses. Why is that? The statistics show that mental illnesses affect many people and can be as deadly as other serious physical illnesses. However, there still is a stigma surrounding mental health. Unfortunately, mental illnesses are commonly associated with stereotypes and are judged by individuals who don’t actually understand the concept of mental health. In other words, they are not properly educated on what mental illness is and how they should be treated. According to a scholarly paper by Patrick Corrigan and Amy Wats, for the Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association, some of these stereotypes are prompted by what people see in the media. Many believe that if someone suffers from a mental illness such as depression, personality disorders or anxiety then he or she must be homicidal, crazy and feared. Another big misconception is that the person is responsible for their illness.

This stigma not only affects the way mental illness is perceived but sometimes it can affect the individual who struggles with mental health. According to the World Psychiatric Association, many people with psychiatric disabilities tend to internalize these misconceptions and start to believe them themselves. This brings on serious self-esteem issues, allowing the person to believe they are less valued because of their disorder or what they are feeling is not a valid illness. This can be one of the reasons that some people with mental illness don’t seek necessary treatments.

It’s especially important to create more awareness on a college campus. According to a 2014 study by the National College Health Assessment, data collected from 76,266 students’ health habits, 33 percent of the students surveyed said within the past 12 months, they have felt so depressed to the point that it was difficult to function. In the same study, 55 percent of the students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety and 87 percent reported feeling overwhelmed by all of their responsibilities.

Taking these numbers into consideration, it’s clear how much mental health can affect students while in college. I do not think it’s talked about enough and I still believe there is a negative stigma connected to it. In fact, according to NAMI, 40 percent of students with diagnosable mental health conditions do not seek help. NAMI reported that concerns about stigma are the number one reason for students not seeking help.

There should be more education on mental illness and how it should be approached. Mental health needs to be taken more seriously and be spoken about openly without attaching a negative perception to it. Just like other illnesses, when somebody is struggling with a psychiatric disability, they don’t have control over how it affects them. They don’t have the option to make it stop simply because “it’s all in their head.” Education and bringing light to these issues is key to end the negative stigma that follows mental illnesses.

On campus, the counseling center offers students the opportunity to talk to a counselor confidently. The Center of Healthy Living, also known as the counseling center, treats alternative lifestyles, drug and alcohol counseling, eating disorders, individual and group counseling, physical and psychological abuse counseling, problems with anxiety, confusion, or depression, crisis intervention, and rape support service.

The Center of Healthy Living is located in the basement of Pell Hall. Counselors are available Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office can be contacted by emailing or calling 516-299-4162.

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