Staff editorial: Breaking the silence on mental health

Posted on Apr 12 2018 - 5:50am by DM Staff

For a long time, people struggling with mental health issues have been stigmatized. Whether they struggle with suicidal thoughts, drug addictions or mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, the stigma can keep them silent.

Often, we only recognize this silence when we lose someone and don’t know why.

The stigma makes it hard to talk about mental health, but it also makes it difficult to write about.  

Today’s edition of The Daily Mississippian, which focuses on how mental health issues relate to campus life, is the product of time and care dedicated to effectively and accurately writing about the issues at hand.

The stories you’ll read document the actions of those who are working to fix this problem, but acknowledge the shortcomings of our campus’s resources and culture in regard to helping students.

Mostly, though, the pages that follow are an attempt to break the silence, recognize and normalize the struggles of our fellow students and make public the tough yet necessary conversations about mental health, suicide and drug abuse.

The prevalence of mental health issues among college students should not be as shocking as it seems, nor should the issues’ prevalence on Ole Miss’ campus seem abnormal.

Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American College Health Association and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention show that mental illness affects college students now more than ever before.

More than 25 percent of college students have sought professional treatment or been diagnosed with a mental health condition in the last year.

Suicide rates among young people ages 15-24 have tripled over the last 50 years.

One in 12 U.S. college students says he or she has made a suicide plan. In terms of Ole Miss’ student body in 2017, that translates to nearly 2,000 students.

As experts in the field point out, the college-aged years are a time of developmental changes, second in significance only to the first five years of one’s life. Most college students are living away from home for the first time. Even those who don’t move from home transition from a structured environment to an unstructured one in which they take on the responsibilities of school, social life and self-care.

These changes often come rapidly and dramatically, causing stress for students that sometimes manifests itself as mental illnesses, which often go unmentioned because of the shame associated with them. These feelings are normal.

For this stigma to fade, we must recognize how common these issues are. Our university’s administration must also recognize this and choose to act on it.

Make the mental health of your students a priority.

Provide the necessary funding and hire the necessary people to staff a counseling center that can assess and treat anyone who needs to walk through its doors.

Work to erase the barriers that prevent students from seeking help, whether that is providing free emergency parking near the counseling center or working with faculty to allow absences for mental health care.

Fund campaigns to validate those who deal with mental health concerns and better educate students about the options they have for treatment.

Until changes like these come, it’s up to us as the campus community to develop this conversation, normalize the topic of mental health and break the silence.

The most significant part of building an infrastructure to properly treat mental health issues comes on the professional side – in allocating resources for counseling services and creating opportunities for anyone with concerns to talk to someone – but part of it comes on the personal side.

In our personal lives, we should make an effort to build support systems for our friends, whether they are struggling silently, openly or not at all.

There should be an expectation that people will listen and truly hear what their friends are talking to them about, whether this involves coping with the loss of a family member or having suicidal thoughts.

By learning about the facts of mental health and how common many of the issues are among college students, we shouldn’t be taken aback when friends come to us with their struggles. We shouldn’t be surprised or act like there is something wrong with people when they open up to us.

We should commit to keeping up with our friends and be willing to talk about trauma and other factors that can contribute to the development of mental health issues.

Read these stories with the hope that positive changes are on the way. Learn about what this campus needs to do differently when it comes to mental health care. Let those working to shape our future inspire you to speak up and reach out.