Many universities across the nation take pride in their commitment to promoting a more accepting and open climate for groups prone to harmful discrimination, particularly LGBTQ+ individuals or people of color. Students suffering from mental health issues––who also encounter negative stigmas and hurtful ignorance––however, often receive much less of this focus from administrations. Research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows that more than 25 percent of college students have received a mental illness diagnosis or treatment within the past year. Approximately 75 percent of mental health conditions first appear before the age of 24. The college age demographic is especially vulnerable to mental illness, with increased academic stress and changes in one’s life often giving way to feelings of depression and anxiety.
A shocking 64 percent of students who have dropped out of college cite a mental health condition as the reason. Without having the right resources available to students on campus suffering from mental illnesses, it can become extremely difficult for individuals to focus on schoolwork when so much of their mental energy is spent fighting their condition.
During the fall 2014 semester, Geneseo’s Lauderdale Center for Student Health & Counseling was without a psychiatrist on staff until October. Not only did this gap hinder students from being able to receive crucial treatment in a timely manner, but when replacement Barbara Dahlberg finally came in, many students––including myself––were oblivious up until this semester.
Interim Director of Health & Counseling Tamara Kenney noted that while students who attended the counseling center were supposed to be alerted to this change, “there was no huge announcement made to the student body.” This is unacceptable. Information of this magnitude needs to be shared with students across the campus regardless of whether or not they attend the center. Students cannot receive the help they deserve if the college isn’t giving them the information they need.
I’m not trying to criticize Lauderdale––I firmly believe that they offer great counseling services and wellness programs, and the many staff members I have interacted with are very caring and dedicated individuals. Both Lauderdale and the campus administration as a whole, however, needs to be more proactive when it comes to promoting these services to the student body.
Not only does information about available mental health resources need to be more widely and regularly shared on the Geneseo campus, but there also needs to be a further push toward creating a community that is educated about mental illness. I would love to see more student organizations involved in mental health advocacy efforts––events such as the 2014 Mental Health Awareness Walk sponsored by Psychology Club, Psi Chi and Pathways not only educate, but help to show students that they have support from their peers.
If students fear that they will be ostracized for having a mental health condition, odds are they will be very hesitant to seek help. A campus community that strives to actively dispel negative stigmas and to create an encouraging atmosphere for students with mental health conditions can help to eliminate those fears, potentially putting students on a better path toward recovery.
Just like working to help LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color to grow more confident in who they are, the same kind of attention and compassion needs to be given to those with mental illness here at Geneseo and at universities across the nation.