The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

86° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: When stigma kills, we’re all to blame

“Teen student jumps to death after she’s caught cheating,” announced the New York Post in May. “Family struggles to explain girl’s death, among 3 teen suicides in Fairfax since Sept.,” the Washington Post reported in November. Or, take CNN this past month: “An Ohio transgender teen’s suicide, a mother’s anguish.”

As time passes, these kinds of headlines are becoming more popular and more integrated in our social norms. We may give these matters a bit of sympathy for a week or so, but then we move on to find what factors are to blame for the loss of another life: That teen was transgender; that teen was doing poorly in school; it was cyberbullying.

How can we find the ignorance and the prejudice to form such unjust reasoning — yet cannot admit that we are partly to blame for these deaths? We chose to judge many of these people to their graves, rather than lend a helping hand to get them through their suffering.

This brings us to a vital question connected to these lost lives: Why are people so afraid of talking about mental health issues?

While researching the kind of help offered by the Disability Resource Center, I found a significant lack of attention toward mental disorders. The problem wasn’t insufficient help available but everyone’s unwillingness to talk about such a topic.

When we think of the word “disability,” most of us likely think about physical impairments, such as an amputation or paraplegia. We don’t usually think about how mental issues such as anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders — among many others — are considered disabilities as well. 

How can someone be expected to play the game of life if their mind is playing another game of its own?

Based on statistics provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness.” Even though these statistics among college students are fairly high, it is still difficult to find people who will openly admit to having a mental health issue.

“There’s a lot of fear,” said Alfred Kaszniak, a psychology professor who conducts research on the neuropsychology of emotion and memory, “and the media dramatizes the very low frequency, but very scary things, that happen where somebody with a chronic mental illness commits a terrible crime.”

After speaking with Kaszniak, it was clear that much of the obscurity of mental health issues was linked to fear. As a society, we tend to be skeptical and afraid of people who appear to be different. How can it be all right to stigmatize someone who comes off as unusual or bizarre, rather than examine the ridiculous number of suicides that we hear about lately?

According to NAMI, “Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death on college campuses.”

Looking back at the suicides of two former classmates, I have heard people say, “Oh, I wish they would have known that things would get better.”

But if we only increase the stigma regarding mental health, we can’t expect people with mental illnesses or disorders to know things will be all right.

Rather than intensifying stigmas of mental instability, we should all give more importance and attention to the help they receive. Students aren’t necessarily aware of the kind of help available for people with mental health issues.

“I’m always hearing about great services for paraplegic students or students with Down syndrome,” said Kimberly Henderson, a neuroscience freshman, “but I don’t hear much about the kind of help offered for students with anxiety or autism.”

If we stress the importance of helping people with mental disorders — whether a sleep disorder or a chronic mental illness — maybe we could decrease the number of horrendous crimes that propagate the stigma in the first place.

It is time we realize that people with mental health issues are not the problem. It’s the lack of help and disproportionate amount of attention they receive that is actually frightening.


Genesis Lara is a freshman studying journalism, Spanish and French. Follow her on Twitter.

More to Discover
Activate Search