Mental health dialogue must continue on campus

Mary Dolan

Mental illness has been an area of focus in the media lately due to high national rates of depression, anxiety and other disorders. However, coverage of these ailments hasn’t just stopped at facts and figures. The discussion of mental illness has also played a large and important role in our daily lives from criminal trials to higher education. Unfortunately, sometimes discussion isn’t enough.

Conversation about mental disorders in criminals centered around two tragedies recently. Four Marines were killed July 16 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At the same time, James Holmes was found guilty of murdering 24 people in the tragic July 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Both of these cases have invited speculation as to whether these two men were insane or simply evil. (Holmes’ insanity plea was rejected by the jury.)

While most people would agree that willfully planning and carrying out the murder of innocent people trends away from insanity, these events and others signal just how pervasive the discussion of mental illness is in our society. Another area where mental disorders are often discussed is the area of higher education. There are many articles that purport to help college students suffering from anxiety, depression or other issues, and topics like stress in college and teenage suicide rates are mainstays in the media.

However, while conversation around mental illness has increased, there is still a stigma attached to many of these issues. Misunderstanding colors the cultural landscape as Americans try to cope with mental health, urging those suffering from anxiety or depression to “just try to be happier” and ostracizing those afflicted with more serious disorders from lack of understanding.

Unfortunately, these issues extend to college students. Students may not receive all of the help available to them because a culture of silence makes them too afraid to speak up; other students may not have the resources they need because their college fails to offer them. Students with anxiety or depression may be dismissed. Students with other, rarer disorders may not be given the support they need for lack of administrative understanding or resources. While discussion of mental illness is encouraged in college mental health centers, the culture around mental health discourages students from seeking help. And that is a problem.

Students should seek professional help when they need it, but they should also be able to gain support from those around them through open communication. Campus mental health offices should reinforce the message that students are not alone in their struggles, and students should take it to heart.

Dolan is a journalism sophomore from Abilene. Follow her on Twitter @mimimdolan.