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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Investing resources in mental health beneficial to all

    When I saw the reports of a mass shooting in our nation’s capital two weeks ago, I knew that we would have the same arguments about guns that we had after Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and our city’s own mass shooting. I was much more concerned about the other topic, however, that has become associated with gun violence: mental illness.

    We need to eliminate the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental illness.

    Whenever one of these shootings occurs, it is a double-edged sword for advocates of mental health treatment. While it brings awareness to our society’s deficiency in acknowledging and treating mental illness, it also increases the stigma associated with those health problems.

    The benefits of disclosing that one suffers from a mental illness, or even taking exploratory steps to discover if one does, do not greatly outweigh the stigma of being lumped into a similar category as a Jared Loughner or an Adam Lanza. This problem is magnified at the university level.

    According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four people aged 18-24 have a diagnosable mental illness, and college students are some of the most at-risk individuals. College students routinely experience heightened levels of stress, feelings of being overwhelmed and a sense of hopelessness.

    In a study by the University of Maryland, 93.4 percent of counseling center directors reported that they are seeing more students with severe psychological problems on their campuses.

    Based on these trends, the researchers expect the demand for mental health services will increase nationwide.

    The UA’s Counseling and Psych Services is one of the institutions that has noticed an increase in the volume of students with mental health issues.

    Marian Binder, director of CAPS, said she has seen the number of visits increase almost 25 percent in the past two years. Even with the increase in visits, Binder estimates that it only represents 7.5 percent of the student body.

    Even if you were to account for students who receive treatment off-campus, those numbers don’t account for the full range of individuals who could benefit from mental health services.

    According to a survey on mental health from NAMI, “Forty percent of students with diagnosable mental health conditions did not seek help,” with concern over the stigma from faculty and classmates listed as the number one reason for not seeking help.

    Another major impediment is that students don’t know the resources exist, Binder said. “People believe that if they are depressed or anxious, they should be able to fix it on their own,” making them resistant to seeking help. She said she believes that students would be surprised by the effectiveness of one-on-one counseling.

    According to a 2012 CAPS survey, 85 percent of students found it helpful to talk to a trained professional.

    “Mental health issues, if recognized and treated, shouldn’t prevent [students] from succeeding in college,” Binder said.

    But, unfortunately, they frequently do. According to the NAMI survey, “Sixty-four percent of young adults who are no longer in college are not attending college because of a mental health-related reason,” and of those students, 45 percent did not seek any mental health accommodations.

    Extrapolating those statistics to the UA’s 2012 freshman class (7,401 students) and average retention rate of 78 percent according to US News, it can be estimated that roughly 1,000 students dropped out because of mental health issues, almost half of whom did not seek treatment of any kind.

    Battling the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health is best accomplished through outreach and education. CAPS provides mental health training to all graduate teaching assistants and resident assistants, and works to accommodate all requests for training. Currently, there is no mandatory training for faculty members.

    Eliminating the misconceptions surrounding mental illness doesn’t just foster a more inclusive campus environment, it can also save academic careers. Considering that retention rates are considerations for national college rankings, which can affect federal funding, investing more resources in mental health education and training for faculty and students would benefit everyone.

    -Max Weintraub is senior studying creative writing and Italian studies.Follow @mweintra13.

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