The recent suicide of beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams once again opened the conversation on the state of mental health care in the U.S. and the stigma surrounding mental illness.
A recent survey conducted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness found nearly 62 percent of students who were diagnosed with a mental illness withdrew from college due to the illness, a statistic that challenges the quality of mental health care in higher education.
The survey identified depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety as the most common disorders diagnosed to college students.
According to an Inside Higher Ed column, budgets for collegiate mental health centers are decreasing while the number of students seeking help through these establishments is at a record high and counselors fear that they are incapable of meeting the needs of students. Though these centers are often incapable of providing the necessary care to students, it’s also important to note that many students do not receive care as a result of the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Many of Williams’ colleagues and friends have said they were unaware that he suffered from depression and were shocked to hear of his suicide. His death is one instance of what many experience every day: suffering in silence because of the negative stigma associated with mental illness.
According to the Huffington Post, there were nearly 40,000 suicides in 2011, making it the 10th leading cause of death, while an estimated 1 million people attempt suicide each year. Newsweek recently reported 10 percent of college students had suicidal thoughts and 1.5 percent of students admitted to attempting suicide.
While USF offers students help through the Counseling Center, Newsweek reported that both George Washington University as well as the City University of New York have faced lawsuits in the past, claiming that they discriminated against students on the basis of mental illness. Many students feel they are unable to seek help due to their policies and regulations regarding mental illness that can lead to involuntary dismissal and disciplinary action, rules that are enforced by institutions as a way of avoiding liability.
The U.S. is currently experiencing a critical period in the existence of mental illness, with outpatient care increasing by 6.6 percent in 2012 compared to the previous year, according to Psychiatric News, the newspaper of the American Psychiatric Association. Mental health care reform should be a top priority for academic institutions, at least in regard to maintaining student enrollment if not for the concern of their students’ well being.
The future of collegiate mental health care is dependent on expanding resources for counselors, showing students the available options for help, and developing programs that extend beyond traditional one-on-one counseling.
Talking openly and honestly about the existence of mental illness and the treatment options available is the most effective method for combatting the negative social view enveloping those with mental illness every day. College is often the first real-world environment that young adults are exposed to and when it is veiled by mental illness the effects can be detrimental.
It is clear that mental illness is increasingly prominent in today’s society, but little is being done to decrease the negative effects that result from it. It is time to acknowledge the existence of mental disorders, increase funding for treatment and eliminate the adversity experienced by those who suffer from illness.