Confronting a Silent Epidemic: Mental illness should not be ignored

I contemplated using this first column of the semester to discuss the value of diversity on campus, the importance of getting involved or one of many other crowd-pleasing yet predictable topics. However, I’d rather talk about something just as important, but which tends to make us a little uncomfortable: mental illness.

As we step onto campus for the first time, we venture into a terrifying new frontier, wrought with challenges associated with such a jarring lifestyle shift. We have to corral together an entirely new social circle. We make decisions that we are told will chart a course for the rest of our lives. Meanwhile, we are faced with unprecedented freedom, which we can use to construct an entirely new identity, explore our sexuality — or simply waste away the hours as a dorm-room, Netflix hermit.

That’s a lot for our underdeveloped brains to handle.

Despite these looming stressors, mental illness falls somewhere near religious beliefs on the spectrum of taboo discussion topics. This remains true despite some alarming statistics about mental health on American college campuses.

For example, the National Alliance on Mental Health found that 64 percent of young adults who no longer attend college left because of a mental-health issue, such as depression, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Additionally, 25 percent of college students were diagnosed or treated by a professional for mental-health reasons within the past year, while 7 percent of college students have “seriously considered suicide,” according to a 2012 study by the American College Health Association.

These statistics run counter to America’s pervasive pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps culture, which promotes the attitude that it’s as easy as “getting over it” when it comes to mental illness. Sure, a lot of sadness and stress — like from a poor exam performance or the death of a pet goldfish — can’t necessarily be tied to a mental-health condition. But if anxiety, depression and/or another symptom of mental illness is becoming a debilitating part of your life, you know it’s not just a matter of “getting over it.”

Unfortunately, the stigma and feelings of weakness or failure associated with mental illness can prevent students from seeking the help they need to improve their mental health. However, there are plenty of resources — right here on campus — in place to help the ailing college student.

The MSU Office of Disability, Re-Entry and Veteran Services provides accommodations for students struggling as a result of mental-health issues. If mental illness is having an adverse effect on your academic performance, visit http://www.montana.edu/disability/student.shtml for more information regarding your options. The documentation process is laborious, but with a little patience, these resources can come to your academic rescue.

MSU Counseling and Psychological Services also offers free, confidential counseling to MSU students, no matter what the reason. For more information, visit http://www.montana.edu/wwwcc/.

Seeking help is not “giving up.” In fact, it takes an incredible amount of strength to come to terms with reality and accept that you may be suffering from a mental illness — and the sooner that happens, the sooner you will find yourself on the path to mental stability.