Breaking the silence to break the stigma of mental illness

mental health (sam's article)By Samantha Reid

It’s no secret that college campuses have high numbers of students suffering from mental illnesses.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in every four adults between ages 18 and 24 has a diagnosable mental illness. This means that even if you are not personally suffering from mental health issues, you probably know several people who are, many of whom often suffer in silence.
There has long been a stigma attached to mental illness. While the situation is improving, we are still not where we should be. The Center for Disease Control states that of those suffering from mental illness symptoms, only 25 percent believe that people are caring and sympathetic to those with mental illness. This belief may come from personal experience, or from how mental illness is often falsely portrayed in the media.
Either way, the stigma affects students’ ability to get the help they need. While one in four college-aged adults may suffer from the symptoms of mental illness, not all of those people are being treated for it. This is often because of a fear of being labeled or treated differently by friends, family and peers.
Sue Stock, director of Roosevelt University’s Counseling Center, said she believes unfamiliarity is one of the reasons students don’t seek help.
“Some cultural groups or families may discourage seeking professional help,” Stock said.
And when students already dealing with a lot of mental struggles are shown a lack of support, it can make the situation worse.
“We [at Roosevelt] try to do outreach and not be strangers to the students. We want to be a familiar face so it’s not as scary.”
While the Counseling Center provides and promotes the fact that students have access to free mental health screening and counseling, not all students who need it take advantage. Statistically, the university’s utilization of mental health services is on par with other universities in an urban setting. There are undoubtedly, though, students who still do not take full advantage due to fear, embarrassment or the self-consciousness that accompanies many mental health issues.
On Jan. 28, a Canadian mental health organization hosted Bell Let’s Talk Day, using social media to raise over $5 million for mental health initiatives. The goal of the campaign is to get people all over the world talking about mental illness and sharing their stories.
If initiatives like Bell become more frequent and successful, we can work to further normalize mental illness and get rid of the stigma that surrounds it. This stigma most often stems from misinformation, something Bell hopes to get rid of by talking about the issues and what they really mean.
It is difficult to understand illnesses like depression, anxiety, eating disorders and more if you have never experienced any of them. But the more comfortable people feel sharing their stories, the more the public can learn about the human side of these diseases. The only way to end the stigma is to start the conversation.
Hearing the stories of others who have gone through something similar can inspire people to share their own stories and get help so that they can work toward coping with their illnesses. Students should never suffer alone because they are afraid of what people will think.
For those who are not personally struggling with mental health, the best thing to do is be there for friends in need. Some people may feel nervous or embarrassed about mental health issues, and it is incredibly important to have a support system that is judgement free.

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