By Samantha Capps, Contributing Writer — People often have a hard time grasping mental illness. It is so much easier to take a pill to get rid of the flu or put a cast on a broken bone than it is to heal up the brain. Because mental illness is hard to understand, it is typically swept under the rug and not taken as seriously as a physical illness.
Sufferers can feel isolated and abnormal, which makes it harder for them to reach out for help. Mental health awareness is a growing subject, especially around college campuses. College students are typically under so much stress and can forget to take care of themselves mentally and physically. In a survey of 100 UTC students, only 18 percent have been medically diagnosed with a mental illness, but 58 percent said they often experience symptoms of mental illness, such as anxiety or depression.
Elizabeth O’Brien, the interim director of the UTC Counseling and Development Center and the director of the UTC Counselor Education Program spoke about the issue of mental health in college students.
“I think that the issues that college students bring to campus are big because they’re their issues. College students are dealing with a lot, some may have just left home for the very first time so your support networks don’t work the same. It could be that you had stuff going on at home for a long time and now you’re getting time to work on it in a way that you weren’t able to before when you were in your hometown,” said O’Brien.
Although college students do sometimes struggle to keep up their mental health, it does not mean they have more problems than everyone else.
“I don’t know that necessarily college kids have more issues. I would just say that the issues just present differently because everything has changed,” said O’Brien. “You have a different set of responsibilities and a different level of support and a totally new environment and that can change how you cope with things.”
College is certainly a difficult time for students. 52 percent of UTC students stated that they notice an increase in their mental illness symptoms since being in college. The mental health of college students is important to universities everywhere, which is why many have placed free counseling services on campus. The UTC Counseling Center has a staff of counselors that can cater to students’ individual needs and improve their well-being.
“What’s important to me is having a college campus clinic that is responsive to undergraduate students and graduate students, and the ways that we can do that are making sure that we are offering hours that are accessible to students,” said O’Brien. “We have a lot of students that work full time, so finding the opportunity to have what we would consider maybe more after hours opportunities like five or six o’clock sessions is really important.”
The awareness and understanding of mental health is also a big step in supporting the people that suffer from illnesses.
“I think the other thing that is important is offering some education on mental health on campus, a comprehensive wellness and education program that could help folks understand that mental health and mental illnesses don’t necessarily have to be frightening things,” said O’Brien. “I think there’s a lot of stigma around mental health and mental illness, so demystifying some of that and taking away some of the stigma through education is really an important thing that the campus to do to help everyone.”
When surveyed about what UTC could do to support students with mental illness, students had many ideas. One of the most popular responses stated that the counseling center should be more advertised because it is not a well-known resource around campus. Students recommend that other mentor programs and stress-relief activities should be added to the campus agenda.
Another popular survey response stated that it would be helpful for professors and instructors to be more understanding of mental health issues in students. Students would like to know that their professors care, and if they had a mental health issues, a professor could provide some help or instruction. If professors knew more about the anxiety and depression students can often face due to school, maybe they would instruct their classes in different fashions.
However, professors and people everywhere don’t always take mental health into consideration. It can often be a forgotten issue.
“I think it is seen differently. Traditionally when we think of being sick, we think of being physically ill,” said O’Brien. “As a society, because we haven’t seen mental health the same way we see physical health, I think that not treating it equally is more of a cultural issue. Slowly but surely we’re coming to a place where it is seen as something that is more important, but I definitely think that there is some big catching up to do.”
Although it is difficult to cope with a mental illness, there are many on- and off-campus resources to help students through difficult times. People with mental illness often think they are the only one suffering and do not realize how many other people share their problems. Reaching out is always the best way to help yourself. It can be a long process to feel better, but it is possible.
As O’Brien said, “It is scary to say you have a mental health issue, it’s not scary to say my arm is broken. If you have a mental health issue, it’s not as easy as fixing a broken arm.”