To those reading this who are struggling to get by each day, who can’t seem to make it to class or get their work done on time, who may have difficulty forming meaningful friendships and just feel tired, lost and alone — I urge you to seek out help. We have great mental health services on campus that can help you turn a new leaf. Even if you never pictured yourself going to therapy, it is worth a shot and can lead to changes you never thought possible.
In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, mental health issues have been further stigmatized, and it is even more important to discuss them. While it is terrible to ever associate mental illness with murder, the voices advocating for greater mental health care are correct. I have witnessed how access to care can drastically improve an individual’s life.
As college students, we are vulnerable to mental health issues, and it is important that we are aware of them and have access to care. Most mental illnesses begin during college years, given the many new stressors that college brings. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds suffer from some form of mental illness, and in 2009 the American College Health Association reported that 31.3 percent of college students felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time over the past year. These are shocking percentages considering the way mental health is treated in society.
As a result of mental illness developing during college years, students can suffer without understanding the cause. Coupled with an insufficient spread of mental health knowledge, when students begin having feelings such as depression and anxiety, it takes time for them to recognize the issue, then overcome the stigma and reach out for help. Lauryn Maleski, the president of Active Minds, a club that works to end the stigma against mental illness, and a junior majoring in human development, said of her experiences in the club: “Some students don’t even recognize they have a problem until they hear others talk openly.”
Even if students realize that they need help, they often do not know where to turn. Maleski says that although she believes many people know about the Binghamton University Counseling Center, most do not know of all the hidden gems it contains, such as group therapy, emergency appointments (between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays) and a new 24-hour phone service. She also said that most students are unaware of the helpful psychiatric services provided by Decker Student Health Services Center and other services provided by the Dean of Students Office and Services for Students with Disabilities.
The stigma surrounding mental health issues also prevents people from reaching out for help when they are struggling. The stigma makes it hard to accept having mental health issues. It also makes it more difficult to talk about hardships and Maleski says this will, in turn, make it much more difficult to seek out resources.
We must do better in spreading awareness of mental health issues, fighting the stigma and marketing on-campus resources. I believe a great way to spread awareness of mental health issues would be to require freshmen to take an online course on mental health before entering BU, to emphasize mental health and how it is often a problem for college students. This would be a great time to spread awareness of mental health services on campus as well.
Maleski says we must spread awareness of mental health issues beyond social science majors and talk to people in Greek life, multicultural organizations and other student groups to fight against mental health stigmas.
Mental illness causes so much suffering; the least we can do is lighten the burden. It is a huge issue in the college population and in order for all students to achieve their fullest potential and get the most fulfillment out of their college experience, we must work together to destigmatize mental disorders and spread awareness of issues and treatment options.
Michael Harel is a junior majoring in political science.