Forum: Student engagement, advocacy reduce mental health stigma

Katie McDermott

College is a difficult time: Many students transition to a new place or live on their own for the first time. Coupled with the stress of rigorous coursework and many students being an age in which many mental health disorders manifest, almost every college student struggles. Despite how common struggles with mental health are, almost no one seems to talk about them — and that is a problem.

Mental health resources are readily available to all UT students. The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center has a wealth of knowledge on many topics, such as information about common concerns for college students, information for parents, and details on the services offered by the center. Besides individual appointments conveniently in the Student Services Building, CMHC offers free group sessions on various topics every semester, such as resilience, stress management or coping with grief — many of which are drop- in. UT also offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, which can be accessed from everywhere.

These resources are augmented and improved constantly to reach as many students as possible and to make it convenient for them to access. For example, a recent bill now requires Texas universities to provide information about mental health and suicide during new student orientation in a live or digital format. Despite all students being a phone call or a click of a button away from information and resources that can and will help, many either don’t know how easy it is or choose to not use them.

Having such resources is essential to promoting mental health on campus, but it is not sufficient. The stigma surrounding issues of mental health keeps many students from talking about it or from taking advantage of resources to help them. College students, who are so willing to advocate for themselves and others in many aspects of life, don’t tend to advocate for mental health and for self-care for fear of seeming weak or that something is “wrong” with them. 

As a CMHC volunteer for UT’s Suicide Prevention Week, one of our biggest challenges is developing events and presenting information in a way that students will want to attend — many students will not go to an event focused on mental health due to the surrounding stigma. Many don’t see it as worth their time and try to just push through feelings such as depression or loneliness. If more students would learn about mental health and share their experiences, we would better see that it’s normal and OK to struggle. So many students have similar concerns, yet people feel like they’re alone since no one discusses it. Knowing that other people have felt the same way or have used CMHC resources will reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

To make these resources more effective, students need to be engaged in mental health — and that responsibility falls on us. College students need to be willing to talk to others and especially to listen. There shouldn’t be shame in advocating for health. Be willing to take advantage of resources that are here specifically for you, and know that you’re not alone.

Dermott is a psychology senior from Austin and a CMHC volunteer for UT’s Suicide Prevention Week.