How College Students Are Resisting The Mental-Illness Stigma


Published:

They tell us from the time we’re young
To hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves
Inside ourselves
I know I’m not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else

—“Secrets” by singer/songwriter Mary Lambert, who has bipolar disorder

Kelly Davis arrived at college carrying heavy baggage—bipolar disorder and an eating disorder. Dragged down by severe depression, she barely made it through her first two years at American University in Washington, D.C. “I didn’t go to classes a lot. I didn’t get out of bed,” recalls Davis, now 22. “After freshman year, I got into an abusive relationship. I was drinking heavily, frequently.” When she felt hopeless, she would tell herself that she would one day be better and try to prevent what happened to her from happening to others.

That she has.

Davis went on to serve as president of her university’s chapter of Active Minds, a national mental health advocacy organization. Davis also organized mental health events and programs for her campus’ wellness center.

Davis is among the hundreds of college students who no longer care to hide their mental illness—or be judged by it. Student advocates are passionate about decreasing stigma and expanding campus mental health services. They are pushing college administrators to create more equitable mental health leave policies and are demanding clearer rules for readmission.

These advocates are driven by the fact that about 20 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds’ deaths each year are suicides. They are emboldened by celebrity mental health disclosures and the LGBT movement’s civil rights successes. They have the confidence to come out, organize, and advocate for themselves in large numbers.

These students are emboldened by their sheer numbers. In the 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers, 86 percent of center directors at 274 institutions reported a steady increase in students arriving on campus already on psychiatric medication. UCLA’s 2015 American Freshman Survey polled more than 150,000 incoming freshmen at 227 four-year American colleges and universities. Of those, 10 percent reported feeling “frequently” depressed, more than 3 percentage points higher than five years ago.

Several college mental health psychologists say the fact that more teens with mental illness are attending college is partly due to advances in mental health care. “We have students who 20 years ago wouldn’t have been in higher ed,” says Chris Brownson, director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “Now, due to earlier treatment, better treatment, many are functioning better and can be wildly successful.”

The increased demand for mental health care has, however, overtaxed many college health centers, resulting in waits as long as three weeks for initial appointments. This discourages some students from seeking help, says Davis. She and other student advocates want colleges and universities to increase counseling staff and add more options, like peer-to-peer counseling.

Young advocates will tell you that stigma is still prevalent and that disclosure takes courage. But talking about mental illness is the best way to reduce prejudice and ignorance, says Ameera Ladak, a senior at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She finds a huge disconnect between the overall student body and those with a mental illness.

“Most students don’t even know the anti-stigma effort exists,” she says. “At campus mental wellness events, people rarely approach [our] booth. They don’t want to be seen as crazy. That’s the main challenge facing us right now.”

Davis spoke out about her eating and mood disorders to help others and found that in doing so, she freed herself. “As I started opening up about my struggles, I realized there were other people with similar experiences, waiting for someone else to bring it up” she says. “The quality of my relationships was transformed, even with acquaintances, because I no longer felt I had something to hide or to be ashamed of.”

Revealing your most private, painful moments can be scary but liberating. Sixteen years old and newly diagnosed, Sarah Berendt isolated herself, but as college approached, the teen threw off her shame and self-loathing. “I realized it wasn’t fair that I had labeled myself as crazy. I knew I had potential to do something worthwhile, which allowed me to feel more comfortable telling friends.”

She confided to her freshman roommate at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. “It was the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had,” Berendt recalls. “I told her that I was on medication for a condition called bipolar disorder. She was not entirely comfortable living with someone with bipolar, but over time, she got a lot more comfortable.” Four years later, the once withdrawn Berendt leads a support group at the local National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), a grassroots mental illness advocacy organization, and is president of her university’s Active Minds chapter. She was instrumental in relocating the campus mental health center to a less conspicuous location to encourage more students to seek treatment. A 2012 NAMI study found that 50 percent of surveyed students who dropped out of college for mental health reasons had never sought counseling.

Students say they are drawn to organizations like these out of a hunger for community and a desire to help their peers find mental health care. The students get to write chapter bylaws, fundraise, and hold events—like De-stress festivals and Defeat Depression runs. At Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Madison, New Jersey, campus, students paraded a banner with 1,000 handprints that read: “1,000 Students Die From Suicide Each Year.” Student mental health groups also invite to campus guest speakers with mental illness who lead successful lives and run movies that treat mental illness responsibly.

A new Active Minds program, Transform Your Campus, gives students tools to shape policy. For instance, students at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, created a mental health curriculum for freshmen and collaborated with college administrators to print a 24-hour crisis number on all student ID cards.

Recent college graduate Kelly Davis is using all she learned as a student mental health advocate in her new job as a policy and programming associate at Mental Health America, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing mental wellness. She is confident the college student mental health movement will continue to expand both in numbers and influence.

“What it’s really about is looking at mental health as part of the larger campus culture,” Davis says. “We’re investing so much in universities, they need to invest in us as well.”

Donna Jackel wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Donna is a professional journalist who these days focuses largely on disability rights, social justice and animal welfare. Her work has been published in national publications, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Chicago Tribune, Next Avenue and The Bark.

See also:
Teaching What Matters Most
Ten Reasons Not To Use Technology For Grade School Learning

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 21, 2019

Minutes after midnight the Leo Moon is Full. This is a complex, powerful Supermoon, when the Moon is closest to earth in its orbit. The Moon’s gravitational impact on tides as well as emotions is maximized. Expect shocking revelations, sudden endings and…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2019

Join acupuncturist and eastern medicine specialist Linda Davis to: 1) Learn and practice a simple method to access your pendulum’s divination powers; 2) experience various types of...

Cost: $20–$25

Where:
Portal Crystal Gallery
489 Massachusetts Ave
Arlington, MA  02474
View map »


Telephone: 781-859-5373
Website »

More information

Once used as a diagnostic tool for physicians, the palms and hands give us insight into physical health and emotional well-being. Learning to decipher the differences in hands and the meanings...

Cost: $250

Where:
The Soul Purpose
1225 Gar Highway
Swansea, MA  02777
View map »


Sponsor: The Soul Purpose
Telephone: 774-264-1329
Contact Name: Jessica Kozak
Website »

More information

Celebrating the new year, the new you!  Come detox, relax and get your new year readings while you recharge in our sanctuary! We have a fun line up of readers and healers providing...

Cost: $60- 3 Service package special; $25 - single service

Where:
Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Road
Suite A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Did you know that forgiveness heals? It can reduce depression, ease anxiety, increase our well-being, and facilitate the body's natural healing response. Many of us may get the concept of...

Cost: $60

Where:
private office
North Andover, MA  01845


Sponsor: Diana Harris
Telephone: 978-973-6637
Contact Name: Diana Harris
Website »

More information

The most powerful things in the universe are invisible. Energy which is the most powerful of physical and spiritual forces is invisible. The most precious and important things that matter in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA  02138
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

MBSR: Mindful Based Stress Reduction Mindfulness, as taught in the MBSR program, is recognized worldwide as the gold standard in mindfulness training and is one of the greatest...

Cost: Free

Where:
Life Care PT
38 Southwest Cutoff
Northborough, MA  01532
View map »


Sponsor: The Center for Resilient Living
Telephone: 508-556-7022
Contact Name: Ginny Wholley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using...

Cost: $30 (limited hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen B. Howell
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Listen as Lauren channels messages from loved ones to prove you are never alone. An intimate event with tested and endorsed research medium.  Visit website for tickets. Doors open at 6:30...

Cost: $50

Where:
The Spiritual Path with Lauren Bortolami
129 N. Main Street
Mansfield, MA  02048
View map »


Sponsor: Lauren Bortolami Robbins
Telephone: 508-339-8111
Contact Name: Lauren Robbins
Website »

More information

With Sherri Snyder-Roche. This yoga workshop will explore self-compassion, self-love and pushing through discomfort to help your recovery process. Recovery from divorce, eating disorders,...

Cost: $95 for 6 weeks or $17 drop in

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Women Rising Together—Women’s Workshop This workshop is designed for women who are facing a challenge and would like to come together with other spiritually minded women to explore...

Cost: $25

Where:
Apple Tree Arts
1 Grafton Common
Grafton, MA  01519
View map »


Contact Name: Christine Johnson

More information

Intuitive medium Laura Wooster is honored to present this evening of spirit messages from your loved ones on the other side. She will deliver evidential messages of love, hope, and comfort from...

Cost: $25

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Instructor: Stacey Piwinski Adult Level Spend half a winter’s day working with warm, cozy, and colorful yarn! Each participant will learn to weave their own circular weaving, starting...

Cost: $65

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

Start this intensive January 26 This is an excellent series for those who are on a healing journey of any sort, as we access the Akashic field of energy to clear your path and...

Cost: $860 or three payments of $366

Where:
, MA


Telephone: (978) 835-0005
Contact Name: Nancy

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags