The issue of mental illness has been hovering in the public consciousness for some time now — depression affects roughly one in 10 Americans, a majority of whom do not seek treatment. This unfortunate effect is exacerbated on college campuses around the country, with statistics placing the number of college students who report a disruption in their academic pursuits as a result of depressive episodes as high as 30 percent. As college stressors increase, students can often find themselves struggling under the pressure of their newfound responsibilities.
Mental illness can seep in over time, and if left untreated can lead to any number of complications. Yet, despite the fact that the severity of mental illness is well known by the public, we do an absolutely garbage job at addressing it. Even in 2015, a remarkable amount of stigma still persists when mental illness is brought up. People who suffer from mental illnesses often keep quiet about it, fearing that if they openly acknowledge their struggles, they will subsequently be ostracized and their standing diminished among their colleagues. Misinformation, social pressure and fear of rejection can turn the simple act of making a phone call into a harrowing experience. This is frustrating and absurd. The perception that mental illness in some way represents a personal failure, or that something is inherently “wrong” with a person has no basis in fact, and can be incredibly dangerous if it causes people to shy away from receiving treatment.
The nature of resources available to students suffering from mental illness also complicates the matter. While universities are making a concerted effort to provide more avenues for treatment, oftentimes these services are not easily accessible. For example, NYU’s Wellness Center boasts an impressive selection of options for members of the university: group therapy, counseling sessions and “toolkit” workshops are all offered at no charge. Walk-in hours are honored in addition to counseling appointments, and students are also able to find counselors tailored to school-specific needs. While these are fantastic choices for someone actively seeking help — the key word here is actively — there needs to be a greater effort to make these choices common knowledge among students and faculty.
As mental illness becomes a bigger part of the national discourse on personal health, it is imperative that we create some sort of safety net for the people who are struggling. Universities must be a huge part of this movement, because they represent a large portion of the population that is most at risk. The onus should not be on the individual to figure out if something is wrong with them, that responsibility also lies with institutions to provide environments where they feel comfortable seeking help.
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A version of this article appeared in the November 16 print edition. Email Emily Fong at [email protected]