What about my mental health?

UMass should focus on our mental health too

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

By Chloe Lindahl, Collegian Columnist

We all know how easy it to catch an illness on a college campus. Thousands of students and faculty reside in small living residences, sharing the same dining halls, bathrooms and other facilities, hence, making it easier for what seems like a minuscule outbreak to catch fire among the student population. Those of us at the University of Massachusetts are lucky enough to have University Health Services available to us, albeit the hike there is no picnic. It’s easy enough to make an appointment and see a caring staff member who hopefully holds answers to any such ailment you may have.

Recently, I experienced my own stint with UHS and found myself in the waiting room feeling anything but fine. The staff was understanding, patient and readily wrote me a note excusing me for the week and suggested I head home in the meantime. After emailing all my professors the note and explaining the circumstances, I received nothing but positive encouragement. They wished me well and reassured me I could make up any missing work in my own time including a variety of quizzes and projects I would be missing. I was thrilled with this response and pleasantly surprised by the easy acceptance from the faculty. Yet, the ordeal got me thinking, what if my illness wasn’t physical but mental? Would I receive the same patience and understanding when time off was needed?

Mental illness has always been a highly stigmatized topic and many feel afraid to address or seek help for their well-being. Although many college campuses have counseling appointments available, it can be months before psychologists are able to see patients. As the most pressing cases are usually put first, those who don’t fall under suicide risk wait weeks before their appointment is scheduled. The concern for the physical well-being of students is important and the resources are abundant, but with suicide being the second leading cause of death among 20-24-year-olds, shouldn’t we invest just as many resources into the mental well-being of students? Furthermore, 60 percent of those who commit suicide had been previously diagnosed with major depression, with no other signs of psychiatric or physical illness. What’s even more discouraging is the fact that the vast majority of young adults, age 18 and older, who are diagnosed with depression do not receive appropriate or any treatment.

So what are colleges and companies doing for their employees and students suffering from mental illness? Companies often allot a certain amount of sick days for their employees, yet when they’re utilized, most employees don’t want to come out and say it is due to their mental health. Some employers frown on using sick days for mental purposes, yet studies prove that workers who show signs of depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses have decreased productivity in the workplace. Allowing employees to take a day to recover or break away from the stressful work environment can increase productivity in the long run and save the company costs that may have previously been lost to unproductivity.

As for students, college campuses have increased initiatives, such as adding helpline numbers on ID cards and increasing counselors. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health has collected data from over 263 colleges, concerning their counseling and mental health centers. They found college student’s mental health has only decreased in the past few years.

One reason for this is more and more people are attending college in recent years. With the influx of students comes a need for more resources that colleges seem reluctant to provide. According to the American Psychological Association, “Specialized services and accommodations rarely exist,” meaning students with mental issues such as schizophrenia or behavioral concerns may face difficulty in balancing their academics and mental health. But colleges should want to invest in the mental well-being of students. USA Today College reported, “Healthier students lead to higher retention rates and graduation rates, so concern for student well-being aside, schools have other incentives to expand resources.” So why is it when we are plagued with a physical illness, we can easily access the resources to get well and acceptance from our professors in contrast to an increasingly long wait-list in counselor’s offices for students desperately seeking help.

The stigma against mental illness, particularly on college campuses, needs to end, and the increase in student bodies calls for an increase in resources for mental health services. Young people in this country face an epidemic. Many people would rather turn a blind eye, but there is a brighter future available if only we invest in in the well-being of our students.

Chole Lindahlis a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]