College Students and Mental Health

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College Students and Mental Health

In lieu of Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought it would only be appropriate to have weekly topics in the area of mental health to bring awareness and knowledge to this important issue that affects all of us. Often when we think about mental health, we think about people living in the community who have been diagnosed and/or treated for a mental health issue. Rarely do we ever draw our attention to college students. While colleges and universities are attempting to move in the right direction by offering more mental health services on campus or referring students to outpatient therapists in the community, there still remains a large gap of those who are not accessing the services. In survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 2011, 27% of students reported being diagnosed with depression, 24% reported being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, 12% reported a diagnosis of other (which include borderline personality disorder, eating disorder, dysthymia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorder and schizoaffective disorder), 11% reported anxiety, 6% reported schizophrenia, 5% reported attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and 1% reported substance abuse (NAMI, 2012). These numbers should be concerning for all of us. They should make us want to know (1) are the students with the mental health needs accessing mental health services, (2) how educated are faculty and staff in terms of understanding students the needs of the students with mental health issues and (3) what happens to the students who are not diagnosed but secretly suffering from a mental health problem.

As we have seen time and time again, if untreated, severe mental health problems can lead to critical even fatal consequences. We have witnessed the damage that mental illness has left when not appropriately managed by the following cases:

April 20, 1999: 18-year-old Eric Harris, and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, students at Columbine High School, killed twelve students and one teacher, and wounded 21 others before committing suicide. Psychological analysis found that Harris had some type of personality disorder, possibly narcissistic and Klebold had major depressive disorder

April 16, 2007: 23-year-old student, Seung-Hui Cho, killed thirty-two students and faculty members at Virginia Tech, and wounded another seventeen students and faculty members in two separate attacks that day, before committing suicide. Seung-Hui Cho was said to have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, selective mutism and major depressive disorder.

December 14, 2012: 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed twenty-six people and himself. He first killed his mother at their shared home before taking her guns and driving to the school. Lanza brought four guns with him. He killed twenty first-grade children aged six and seven during the attack at school, along with six adults, including four teachers, the principal, and the school psychologist. Two other persons were injured. Lanza then killed himself as police arrived at the school. Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was thirteen and also had OCD.

So how can we address the mental health needs of the students while preventing things like these massacres from happening? The first step is acknowledging that mental illness exist by sharing information. This would include the schools having input by placing information on mental health on their homepage, training staff, faculty and students, develop campus-wide events that focus on mental health, post and distribute information about mental health, include information about mental health during orientation can campus tours, and last, connect with service providers in the community who can provide the clinical support for students. What students need to know is that mental health is common and that they are alone in their quest to obtain assistance. Also, students need to know that mental health is real. Mental health is important to overall health and academic success. Students also need to know the facts about mental health, the signs and symptoms and what it means to have a mental health condition. Last, there is hope. Students need to know that there is help and hope out there. Mental health is treatable and help is available. Do not allow shame or stigma to prevent you from seeking mental health care.

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