Roosevelt University diversifies its mental health services

by Aero Cavalier / Staff Reporter

Students ask questions at the Mental Health Panel. Photo by Karina Aguilar.

In 2018, the American College Health Association released a survey report that showed the severity of the mental health epidemic in this country. The report claimed that three out of five students experienced anxiety and two out of five students suffered from severe depression, but only about 10 to 15 percent sought out help on their college campus. Some of Roosevelt’s mental health professionals argue that the best way to deal with it is to destigmatize it.

“The idea for me about destigmatizing is to make it boring,” said Dr. Nevin Heard, an assistant professor for clinical counseling. “We make it so boring because it’s so routine. ‘Ok, this is where you need to go. This is what it is.’”

Destigmatizing mental health is a relatively new trend that has just begun to enter mainstream media. This includes getting rid of social systems that are in place that seem to demonize mental illness, like the mass media’s occasional depiction of mental illness through sensationalist reporting and entertainment’s pushing of negative stereotypes of people with mental illness. 

“There’s guilt and shame that people feel when they are addressing themselves and how they feel that we need to shed. People shouldn’t feel bad about feeling bad,” said Adam Wouk, the Director of Disability Services.

Another issue with destigmatizing mental illness that Roosevelt has with such a diverse population is the different types of stigma that comes with such a diverse student body.

“A lot of times, the communities that students of color come from, the idea of mental health is so taboo,” said Irma Gomez, a coordinator for Disability Services. “People of black and brown backgrounds don’t seek mental help because of these taboo thoughts.”

A graphic detailing statistics of college students’ mental health. Graphic courtesy of Siena College.

Higher education is becoming much more diverse, and with that, colleges and universities also have to look at how they are approaching the topic of mental illness. One study showed that only 22.4% of Latinos and 25% of African Americans diagnosed with mental illness will seek treatment as opposed to 37.6% of whites. A person’s upbringing will influence his or her own personal ideas and biases when they are talking about their perceptions of mental illness.

“We always need to be thinking about our programming and adjusting to the changes of students,” said Wouk. “Not always just giving out the same information and just marketing our services, but thinking: ‘how can we meet the current needs of who’s in front of us?’”

To meet these needs, Roosevelt has been taking steps to make it easier for students to get counseling and other mental support that they need. Dr. Jerome Wilczynski, the director of the Counseling Center, mentioned that they are now fully staffed at the Loop campus and are making arrangements to get a full-time staff at the Schaumburg campus. Roosevelt is also pursuing tele-counseling—a form of counseling that is done entirely through phone calls or various forms of video chat. This will allow for commuting students or students who only go to the Schaumburg campus to have a way to communicate with a counselor regularly. However, this is not the end-all-be-all to getting more students to seek treatment.

“I think a big conversation we need to have is around cultural competence and around students,” said Dr. Heard. Cultural competence is the ability for a person to be able to successfully communicate with people of another culture, whether that culture be gender, sexuality, race, physical or mental capabilities or ethnicity. It is also the understanding that people will never be able to fully understand a culture that they are not a part of. Although cultural competence can make it easier for marginalized persons to get proper help, Roosevelt is also trying to increase the diversity among the counselors that they hire to more accurately represent the demographics of its student body.

With counseling and disability services at Roosevelt being more accessible than ever, staff and faculty is urging students who may be struggling with anything from a clinical mental illness to having a bad day to check in with the school’s professionals.

“I tell students to use any resources that they can, because at the end of the day I realize that power dynamics are real,” said Dr. Heard. “Coming from a marginalized identity myself, I say ‘let’s do the safest option’ which is to be connected and protected in those ways. If you are to get some pushback, you have someone who’s also there to support you.”

Roosevelt is trying to help students and staff understand that it’s normal to not feel ok. “I think there’s been a lot of strides—even at a public health level—where we’re trying to destigmatize things and trying to help people realize that we’re just talking about problems that people have. It’s as simple as that,” said Dr. Wilczynski.

If you or someone you know if suffering from a mental illness, please reach out to Disability Services or the Counseling Center. In case of an emergency: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

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