Mental Illness Stigma a Deterrent in Seeking Help

Mood indigo. The blues. Heaviness. A rough patch. Whatever the name of choice, feeling low is part of life. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMH) reports that one in five adults will experience mental illness in a given year. Due to the social stigma surrounding mental health, only one third of students struggling with mental illness seeks help. For students, the repercussions of untreated mental illness during their academic career can be severe. Studies show that 64 percent of college dropouts stopped attending classes because of a mental health issue. University systems should work to address mental health with adequate resources for suffering students. The more pressing problem, however, is that even when the resources are available, the stigma surrounding mental illness deters students from accessing them.  

The U.S. has the highest prevalence of mental illness in the world, with around 27 percent of Americans suffering from some sort of mental health disorder in the past year. This number increases to 47.4 percent over the course of a lifetime. This abundance of mental illness would lead one to assume that psychiatric health care is readily utilized. However, the shame of being labeled as “weak” or “crazy” prevents potential patients from seeking help. Certain races and cultures within our society propagate this shame of mental illness more than others. Gender also plays an important role in the likelihood of utilization of health service for mental illness, with men seeking help less frequently than women. Even with the extent of resources as well as the abundance of mental health issues in our country, the stigma surrounding those who receive treatment prevents them from seeking help.

Society promotes the idea that college is the happiest stage of life. Students are prompted to live it up while before the real burdens weigh down. However, this is the first time that individuals in our society are forced to make consequential decisions. The harsh reality of young adulthood is stressful. Choosing a career, shouldering thousands of dollars of debt, absorbing seventeen credits worth of classes, and working a part-time job can take a toll on a student’s mental health. College can be a stressful time, especially if our culture won’t accept student struggles as legitimate. In order to adequately treat mental health issues, the myth of the carefree college student must be debunked.

MSU has risen to the occasion, addressing student mental health by providing free resources through Counseling and Psychological Services. CPS, located in Swingle Hall, offers ten free 50 minute counseling sessions to MSU students every semester. On average, 1,500 students a year, or about 10 percent of MSU students utilize these free sessions. CPS helps students in crisis, as well as those that wish to prevent their concerns to developing into more serious problems. I utilized my free sessions at CPS two years ago, when my friend died in a car accident. For a semester, CPS provided me a time and place every week to process my grief. Now, although I still miss my friend deeply, I do not feel overwhelmed when I think about his death. These sessions helped me get back on my feet so I could finish my semester.

In the country with the highest mental illness rate in the world, Americans defy the statistics by stigmatizing those who suffer. On top of that, we live in a state one of the highest suicide rates in the country. As students, the state of our mental health can make a big impact on the decisions we make about the future. Some universities, like MSU, have come to terms with the prevalence of mental illness and provided resources like free counselling and support groups. Unfortunately, due to the stigma in our society , many who suffer from mental illness do not seek treatment. In order to properly address mental health we must adequately acknowledge the frequency with which it occurs in our country. Only then will a society be created which values the complete health of all individuals.