University of Massachusetts students go to a top-tier research university, and as a result, as students we are often faced with many stressful academic circumstances, including arduous papers and complicated exams. But when do symptoms of ordinary college stresses get confused with signs of psychological illness?
Psychological illness impacts an increasing number of Americans. Perhaps this is largely due to higher levels of diagnosis.
Nevertheless, the stigma associated with mental health has been substantially reduced as compared with past generations. Counselors are readily available to help us cope with the events of life. Psychopharmacological medications are available and readily distributed to qualifying patients through licensed pharmacies. Support groups that help people work out the tragedies of life exist for many different situations.
Times have changed much from earlier days when the Northampton State Hospital treated patients from across the state. This hospital existed a little over a mile away from Northampton Center. The facility was state of the art at its founding and it was expanding all the time throughout the early part of the 20th century.
It is tempting to demonize such places, perhaps with an analogy to Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson as a patient in a mental institution. However, it is important to know that from their more optimistic beginnings in the 1850sto their more notorious end around the 1970s, these institutions contained many people meaning well in their intentions to help people struggling with varying forms of psychological needs.
It is true that during their decline, many of these institutions were chronically underfunded and thus suffered from a severe reputation that eventually led to their demise in favor of more out-patient and community-based support for those with psychological needs.
When these institutions were first established, they were championed by the most progressive in the society of their day. Before the time of the state hospitals, the alternative for the psychologically ill was neglect or imprisonment similar to that of a common criminal’s imprisonment.
The rise of state hospitals, including the one in Northampton, was the beginning of ever more enlightened views on the matter. Progressive-minded doctors and caregivers continually revised and improved upon the understanding of how mental illness affects people.
As recently as 40 years ago, during the heyday of student activity across campuses throughout the country, including such issues as the ongoing war in Vietnam, it is evident that society itself was still in need of convincing. As we find ourselves in the presidential primary season in 2012, back in 1972, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s first choice for his vice presidential running mate, Thomas Eagleton, was effectively disqualified for the office based on having received psychological services.
Even today, it remains legal in certain types of employment to disqualify applicants based on whether she or he has received some forms of mental health treatment. At the same time, receiving some form of mental health treatment is ubiquitous in today’s society. This ubiquity certainly includes college students, and many of our peers are engaged in one service or another that falls within the mental health realm.
Modern medical science indicates that psychological illness is on par with traditional physical ailments, such as influenza, sexually-transmitted infections (STI’s) and sports injuries, and should not be considered a defect in character or any such matter.
Sufferers of mental illness can look at many forms of mental illness as being treated in a directly relatable manner to how we treat physical ailments. A prescription medication may even be sufficient to treat psychological matters, either on its own or in conjunction with a traditional form of psychological treatment.
Regular followers of campus affairs will know that recently there have been many concerns raised over the future of University Health Services. As our student body, along with the broader campus community, looks to our future, it is important to affirm that mental health services must be maintained and improved. Scientists and physicians are consistently learning more in this area, and the success of this and the success of future generations of students depend on a strong mental health facility.
While there have been many ups and downs, the general trend in the history of mental health treatment shows an increasing understanding and acceptance of these issues as they arise in people, including college students.
Whether a student has a serious lifelong but controllable condition or a temporary level of stress that causes adverse symptoms, it is necessary to continue on the path that allows people to live life fully, and not to reduce their quality of life for fear of shame or stigma.
Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.