Molly KalbCollege Writing12 January 2018Final Paper”The Elephant in the Room”Constance Rodenbarger, a student at the University of Indiana, attempted to commit suicide on November 17, 2014, just one day before her long awaited appointment with the school’s counselor (Thielking).
Sadly, this is a reality for many students today who seek help with mental illness. Because of the shortage of available counselors, many students are forced to wait up to three weeks before seeing a counselor (Thielking). In the United States, mental illnesses are increasing both in number and severity (Hunt).
With the increase in cases, there has been a rise in the stigma attached to mental illnesses. Many people find it easier to empathize with a physical injury rather than mental illness because physical injuries are tangible and the course of treatment is more direct (Bryne). Many people with mental illnesses do not seek help due to the stigma of shame, isolation, stereotypes, and discrimination placed upon them by peers, family members, and friends (Byrne). Mental illness has become “the elephant in the room,” because people do not want to or feel like they should not speak up about their mental illness.
Due to the the lack of resources, there has been an increase in stigmas attached to mental illnesses, as well as a lack of empathy with those who suffer with mental health. High schools, colleges, and universities need to inform students of the realities of mental health as well as increase resources to students in order to diminish “the elephant in the room” (Bryne). Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, states that one in five people will suffer from some sort of mental illness in their lifetime (Insel). He adds that although AIDS, leukemia, heart disease, and strokes have all dramatically lowered their mortality rates in the past decades, but mental health is still large problem; 90% of all suicides are related to a mental illness (Insel). He believes that mental illness should be thought of as any other sort of physical injury or disease because of the large amount of people who suffer from this form of illness (Insel).
The majority of the public believes that individuals who struggle with mental health are in control of their illness and responsible for their actions; however, when regarding physical disabilities, the general public believes that they are not in control of their actions and thus can not be held responsible. This notion results in the public having more sympathy towards those with physical disabilities (Brown et. al). This absence of empathy towards those who struggle with mental health is also shown through the lack of timely treatment and care. Ben Locke, the director of counseling services at Pennsylvania State, notes that “college health centers would never require a student with strep throat to wait two weeks for an appointment. Yet that’s what’s happening to many students with anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health concerns.
It puts the student’s academic career, and potentially their life, at risk” (Thielking). This shows the lack of empathy that schools have for students who struggle with mental health rather than students who have a visible illness. Not only are students forced to wait longer for treatment, but a study conducted by Megan Thielking found that teachers and professors are more understanding and flexible with extending homework and test dates to students who have a visible condition, rather than students with a mental illness (Thielking). It is hard for people to understand and sympathize with those who suffer with mental health because people can not see what is physically going on and because there is no one treatment that works for all people. Mental health needs to be treated with the same amount of care and empathy as physical disabilities. With almost half of all college students meeting one or more of the criteria, feeling overwhelmin for having at least one mental health disease, it is crucial that students feel comfortable receiving treatment (Hunt).
The two most effective ways of treating mental illnesses are through talk therapy and prescription medications (Thielking). Medications are prescribed by either a doctor or psychiatrist and are used to treat depression, ADHD, anxiety, and other various illnesses. Talk therapy is when a patient talks to a professional, alone, or in a group setting about their personal life in order to talk through the problems they are having. These treatments are not always accessed by students because the reactions peers have to the use of these methods, as well as the lack of resources schools have available.
While both are effective on their own, the best method is to use both forms of treatment (Thielking). Amanda Stone and Lisa Merlo conducted a study which explored students reactions towards psychiatric medications and talk therapy treatments among their peers. This study found that one in four students think that prescription medications are harmful to a person’s health and do not treat the illness (Stone).
Additionally, Stone found that the majority of students involved in the study think that prescription medications are used without a prescription or are used for recreational purposes (Stone). This study helps to prove that “stigmatized beliefs are associated with negative views toward psychiatric medication,” so in order for students to feel comfortable seeking treatment, education needs to be improved among college students regarding proper use of prescription drugs. The study also showed that most adults do not believe that talk therapy is effective, which influences their kids to not use this form of treatment (Stone). Considering both of these stigmas, it makes it very difficult for students to seek help. Students are being surrounded with opinions that treatment is ineffective, when this in fact is simply a stigma or a result of a very subjective experience and is inaccurate information.Although mental illnesses are being talked about more than they have in the past, many people with mental illnesses still do not feel comfortable talking about their illness with others, thus creating “the elephant in the room.” Stigmas have become a very large part of why students and adults do not want to seek the help that is available. Charlotte Brown and her colleagues sought out to study the stigmas that are attached to mental illnesses.
Brown defines stigma as “a process of social rejection, devaluation, and discrimination” (Brown et. al). In the United States people are stereotyped based upon their race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, and countless other things. Most people do not think that mental illnesses are stereotyped as bad as these other factors, but in reality mental health has a large stigma attached to it.
Brown states, “although stigmatizing attitudes are not limited to mental illness, research suggests that stigmatizing attitudes of the general public are more severe for persons with psychiatric conditions than those with physical disabilities” this proves that people who have a mental illness are stigmatized harder by the public than other disabilities (Brown et. al). The general public is constantly shown false depictions of the realities of mental health on television and advertisements, thus increasing the public’s stigma (Brown et. al). Brown also found that the general public believes that people with mental illness are: less competent, violent, and act childlike; these stigmas which are not true for all people with mental illness, greatly affect people who are open about their illness. For example, if a person puts that they have bipolar disorder on a application for a apartment or a job, are less likely to be leased that apartment or get that job. For these reasons, many people choose not to seek help out of fear that they will become discriminated because of their illness (Brown et.
al). Similarly, an article in the Journal of Adolescent Health written by Justin Hunt stated some of the main reasons students choose not to seek help. Hunt found students do not seek help because they fear their information will be available to the school and will not be kept private. If the information is not kept private, students who need help do not receive help (Hunt). Additionally, he states that 90% of college students are either covered by health insurance or their college offers free counseling, so lack of money is not a reason as to why students are not receiving help. Rather students do not seek help because they fear judgment from their peers (Hunt).
In order for people to feel safe and comfortable talking about “the elephant in the room”, the social stigma of mental illnesses needs to diminish.As previously mentioned, Constance Rodenbarger tried to commit suicide after waiting two weeks for a meeting with a school counselor. Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but two weeks can be unimaginable for students who are away from home for the first time; these students may be facing both academic and peer pressure, and are without a support system. Daily tasks such as getting meals and going to class become major hurdles for students struggling with mental illnesses. According to the National College Health Assessment, “more than one in three undergraduates reported ‘feeling so depressed it was difficult to function’ at least once in the previous year, and nearly one in ten reported ‘seriously considering attempting suicide’ in the previous year” (Hunt). Rodenbarger states that she would look at the calender thinking, “if I can just make it one more day” then goes on to say that waiting one more hour, or minute became too hard, “I just couldn’t hang on,” her roomate found her hours later and she was rushed to the hospital (Thielking).
Many colleges and universities take two to three weeks to get initial exam to review a students symptoms, then another two to three weeks for an appointment with a counselor, depending on how urgent the results appear to be (Thielking). Megan Thielking, author of Surging Demand for Health Care Jams College Services, found that just six out of ten colleges has a psychiatrist available on demand, this is unacceptable for students who may require immediate attention (Thielking). With the immense increase in demand for mental health professionals, and the lack of these professionals, on campuses across the country, students like Rodenbarger are left with no help for weeks.
In order for universities to meet the demand needed for their students, more counselors need to be hired, counselor centers need extended hours, and more programs are needed for students with mental illnesses. There are, however, some quick fixes colleges can make to ease and alleviate stress and anxiety during midterms and finals. Handing out cookies and snacks in the library, as well as having pet therapy available, both have been proven to reduce short term stress (Thielking). In order for colleges and universities to meet the needs of their students, they must seek the resources needed for long term mental health solutions. With the rise in mental illnesses in colleges across the country, it is very important that schools keep their teachers and students educated, informed, and empathetic towards those suffering with mental health.
This illness consumes people’s lives socially, mentally, and physically. The stigma on college campuses and in society must end so that students feel more comfortable opening up about what they are struggling with. Lastly, it is important that schools have dependable counseling services available to students whenever they need help. Secondary education has lots of pressures and challenges that are new to students, so the possibility of developing a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression is very high. It is crucial that colleges and universities have the proper resources and information in order to combat mental illness.Works CitedBrown, Charlotte, Kyaien O.
Conner, Valire Carr Copeland, Nancy Grote, Scott Beach, Deena Battista, and Charles F. Reynolds, III. “Depression Stigma, Race, and Treatment Seeking Behavior and Attitudes.” Journal of Community Psychology, vol.
38, no. 3, Apr. 2010 , pp. 350–368.Hunt, Justin, and Daniel Eisenberg.
“Mental Health Problems and Help-Seeking Behavior Among College Students.” Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol 46, no.1, 2010, pp. 3-10Insel, Thomas. “Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness.
” TED. Jan. 2013. Lecture www.ted.com/talks/thomas_insel_toward_a_new_understanding_of_mental_illnessStone, Amanda M., and Lisa J.
Merlo. “Attitudes of College Students Toward Mental Illness Stigma and the Misuse of Psychiatric Medications.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry vol. 72 no. 2, 2011, pp.
134–139.Thielking, Megan. “Surging Demand for Mental Health Care Jams College Services.” Scientific American, Scientific American, A Division of America Inc., Feb. 2016.