Mental illness has become part of a broader, national conversation. People are being educated and becoming more aware of mental health issues; we are now public, we are heard.
As more and more young people face these problems, it’s impossible to ignore. Policy is changing, and resources are being allocated. But every rose has its thorns.
It must be noted that I write this not as a condemnation of the efforts or progress made by the Student Wellness Center and other organizations on campus, or even a critique of their effectiveness. Rather, I write this as a reminder: we're not done yet.
To me, it appears we have checked the box on the mentally ill; the question of “what more could we need?” is raised.
Glad you asked.
For one, mandatory staff and faculty training would help on college campuses. With depression and anxiety comes a feeling of inferiority, fear of retaliation, and perceived lack of understanding. Knowing that a professor at least knows about the place you might be in, adds a layer of comfort (I know from experience).
Further, mandatory training can also add a level of awareness, catching things before they spiral into disaster. This isn’t meant for faculty-diagnosis of students, or to create a level of paranoia in staff, but at the end of the day, it feels good to know someone’s looking out for your well-being.
Second, we need to have less emphasis on “destress weeks,” and more on education and providing open spaces for intimate connection.
There comes a point where holding a puppy almost becomes substitute for seeing a therapist in the eyes of the university.
To be clear, I don’t mean put these events in a negative light. They are good insomuch that they provide coping mechanisms for students in times of higher stress, or even a force in the balance of life and school work. There just seems to be a trade-off of student awareness and attention to a serious issue.
To resolve this, the Student Wellness Center should add public events that educate students on mental illness. This might include lectures from experts or having an open space for stories to be told.
For instance, I organized an event for my floor in South Tower that included a panel of people that have dealt with mental health issues that told their side of the story. Experiences with therapists, antidepressants and recovery were shared.
The space was then opened for those observing to share their stories as well. This wasn’t a normal therapy session. A sense of community and belonging, at least for me, was created.
There was no “spectacle” to be observed, the lines between speaker and audience were blurred. Hearing stories like these can break down mental health stigma by regarding the speaker as human and not their illness. It can also break down stigma of care-seeking by making it “okay”for people to depend on one another.
The university has both an interest and a duty to increase student well-being. These are the ways to start doing so.