Mental health issues deserve campus conversation

In the United States, an estimated 15 million people suffer from depression, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The JED Foundation, whose mission is to promote emotional health and prevent suicide on college campuses, reports that 25 percent of college students have experienced serious depression, and one in 10 students has seriously considered suicide.

In 2012, Montana had a suicide rate of 22.6 per 100,000 people, nearly twice the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one in four Americans, or 61.5 million people, experience mental illness in a given year. For comparison, approximately 6 million people break a bone each year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Ten times as many people deal with mental illness than a fracture.

This week’s feature tells one person’s story of going through serious depression. Our hope is that by putting a face to these experiences people will see these numbers as more than just statistics. We want the community to realize that this seemingly impersonal data represents the struggles of our coworkers, our peers, our relatives, our friends and even ourselves.

For on both a societal and personal level, a stigma surrounds mental illness. The JED Foundation found in a 2006 study that emotional embarrassment was the most significant barrier to seeking treatment. Only 23 percent of students would be comfortable with a friend knowing they were getting help. What about the other 77 percent?

Seeking treatment should not be shamed. It can improve and save lives in addition to strengthening families and communities.

When we break an ankle, we go the doctor. When our car breaks down, we go to the mechanic. When we face depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue, we should feel able to seek help. Making an appointment at Student Health Services after a concussion is normal; making an appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to discuss mental issues should not be different.

At Montana State, the awareness of mental health issues is on the rise. Last fall, MSU’s CPS received a $248,000 grant to broaden its suicide prevention and awareness services. On the statewide level, Montana lawmakers’ proposed general budget includes $10 million for addressing mental health issues.

This increase in resources for mental illness treatment is encouraging and exciting — it deserves our full support. It represents an increased awareness of the commonality of mental health issues and a desire to help those of us who struggle with them. Yet the topic deserves so much more.

If people are afraid of seeking treatment, more treatment options will not help them. Giving more money to mental health services is only effective if more people are utilizing these resources, only if a stigma does not prevent them from seeking help.

How do we destroy the stigma associated with mental illness? For Exponent Editor-in-Chief Nicole Duggan the answer is in sharing her personal journey of depression. Bringing stories like these, of fellow students and campus leaders who have faced these issues, challenges the stigma of mental health by opening a dialogue about them. As a larger community, we can draw from these stories to address the mental health epidemic we face together.

One in four college students has experienced severe depression. How will we, as a community, empower them to confront the struggle of mental illness?

MSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services provides confidential counseling to all students free of charge. To learn more visit their website at montana.edu/wwwcc or call 406-994-4531.