Mental Health on Campus

Posted October 23rd, 2009 at 8:20 pm.

October 23, 2009

On tackling one of the most taboo topics on campus: mental health.

What are some of the things/phrases that come to mind when we hear “mental health”?

Crazy, alone, tears, stress, diagnoses, medication, silence, stigma, secrets, shame, helplessness, weak, therapy/services, support, family, empathy, courage, “What do you have to be unhappy about?”, “Bitching and moaning”, “It’s all in your head.”

If mental health is something that everyone has, how do we distinguish mental health from mental illness?

Mental health is a spectrum that mental illness falls on.  Mental health can be defined as the state of how the mind is, while mental illness is a bad state of mind, which is equated with having a problem.  In speech, the word ‘mental’ has taken on a negative connotation, resulting in an interchanged use of the words  ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’.

Is mental health a diversity issue?

Are people who are mentally different mentally ill?  Being mentally ill affects the way someone functions socially or occupationally and is a diagnosable illness.  Mental health is a diversity issue because there is a stigma around the issue and people are treated differently based on where they fall on the mental health scale.  Mental illness is also an issue that involves both visible and invisible differences, and stigmas placed on those affected by mental illnesses come from the stereotypes associated with visible differences.  Additionally, socioeconomic diversity plays a role in deciding who gets access to healthcare and support.  In a nutshell, mental health is a diversity issue simply because it affects the way people are treated by the world.

Why is it harder for people to talk about mental health than other things, especially at Bryn Mawr?

Mental health is more difficult to talk about than physical health because it is personal and there aren’t always outward signs that someone is suffering.  Some people do not believe there is a problem if it is not visible. There is a societal perception that mental health is a weakness.  People are scared of reaching out to others because they fear that they will be shamed and rejected.  Additionally, the mental health conditions themselves cloud people from conveying and articulating their emotions.  Furthermore, people can feel threatened by the administration’s policies for students who suffer from mental health problems. In an environment where mental health is treated as a weakness and individuals are supposed to be “strong Bryn Mawr women,” reaching out for help can be a contradictory and intimidating prospect.

Why mental health should be discussed?/What can we do?

Seeking help is not a weakness, but an act of courage because it takes a lot of guts to confide in others.  Counseling services makes it very clear that you do not need to have an apparent problem to use their services.  Often times, people wait until a situation gets to a crisis point before seeking help, which can be very detrimental.  Counseling services also treats confidentiality very seriously; counseling records are double-locked and are not included in physical health records.  Only with a student’s permission will the information be shared with deans, parents, etc.

The idea of the strong Bryn Mawr woman not wanting to seek help was a hot discussion.  While some of the characteristics tied to being a Bryn Mawr woman are empowering, some keep us from asking for help and connecting with others when we are in trouble.  We need to let students on campus know all the resources available to them and to demystify therapy by openly talking about it.  Active Minds plans a lot of events for students, especially before midterms and finals to de-stress.  We all know that Bryn Mawr culture produces a lot of stress, but unfortunately, nobody uses the de-stressing activities.  We as a community, need to support one another by acknowledging and spreading the message that asking for help is not a weakness, nor is it futile.

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