Mind Matters: Mental Health’s Stigma

By Gabrielle Fellows

It’s finals week, your boyfriend just broke up with you, your car just broke down and you accidentally wasted your one Masterball on a measly Pidgeotto. You’re probably feeling like you can’t recover from this devastating week, like you’ve lost all motivation.

Now imagine feeling hopeless, guilty and irritable all the time.

For many college students, the symptoms listed above sound incredibly familiar. In 2011, the American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment took a nationwide survey of college students at two- and four-year institutions and found that around 30 percent of college students report feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

During college, many students are stressed, overworked, underfed, running on little to no sleep and are operating with strict limitations on their hard-earned dollars. How can one tell the difference between just being an average student with stresses and having clinical depression? Sadly, these two do get confused often, and many college-age students are operating on a day-to-day basis without the medical assistance their bodies need to function correctly.

The following are red flags for depression: loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy; lack of energy; problems concentrating, remembering information or making decisions; problems falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much; drastic change in appetite; persisting aches, pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems.

While college — with its strenuous schedule and rigid expectations — may cause a lot of these symptoms, clinical depression is not something to take lightly. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, many students who feel as if they might be depressed don’t seek out help because they think their symptoms are just part of the typical college experience or they worry about being judged if they seek mental health care.

These facts are sickening and alarming. But what is perhaps more bothersome is that so few people care about the state of our society’s mental health.

Is anyone aware that there are counseling services available through the university? How about that mental health is something that is covered under a basic federally provided healthcare plan?

Physical health is something that we as a culture glorify. How many magazines have glaring headlines showing off how one can lose 20 pounds by following a simple regimen? There are tons of success stories when it comes to physical health and overcoming bodily issues.

It’s a shame the same doesn’t go for mental health. The public will glorify the contestants of The Biggest Loser for losing all the weight they acquired, but will ridicule the celebrity that was diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder.

The fact is, I’ve lost many friends to mental illness. I can’t say I’ve lost a single one due to any physical issue. Mental illness is something that we shove into a corner and ignore, claiming that “things get better” without help and with just thinking “more positively.” I have a thyroid problem that makes it difficult for me to stomach certain foods, makes me nauseous at least half of the time and blurs my vision under certain circumstances. If someone told me that I should “just get over it” or that it “was just a phase,” I would definitely fly off my rocker.

Something wrong with your body? Let’s fix it with medicine!

Something wrong with your brain? Get over it!

Something is wrong with society, and we need to fix it. We need to better broadcast the mental health services that are available to those who may think they need them. We need to better empathize with those who are suffering from stress disorders, depression and other mental ailments.

We need to eliminate the negative stigma attached to mental disorders and begin to move forward as a culture with progressive health care.