College campuses lack mental health awareness

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While flipping through Facebook over a week ago, I noticed something unusual in my feed. Luckily, Facebook keeps track of these things so I know that it was Sept. 18, 2015.

In the midst of cat vines and party selfies, New York Times articles and car reposts from my brother, Facebook kindly invited me to like the cause, Active Minds, at Union.

What is Active Minds? I wondered the same thing.

Turns out Active Minds, according to their website www.activeminds.org, is “the leading nonprofit organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health in order to educate others and encourage help-seeking.”

Reading further, I discovered that its mission is to “change the culture” on college campuses by organizing student-run groups to hold events meant to educate the college campus at large about mental health awareness and means of seeking support.

I’d never heard of such an organization at Union before, which is probably because it only has three likes on Facebook.

An organization intent on reaching an entire campus on an issue dear to everyone’s hearts, and only three likes on Facebook?

Granted, the Union Chapter of Active Minds has only been on Facebook for a little under two weeks, but their presence still started me thinking about mental health in a college context.

Are we as a community doing enough to address this issue?

Gregg Henriques warns in his article, “The College Student Mental Health Crisis,” that America’s college students experience “greater levels of stress and psychopathology than any time in the nation’s history.”

Henriques goes so far as to identify “an emerging epidemic of mental health problems in late adolescence (15-18 year olds) and emerging adults (ages 18-24).”

College is meant to nourish young minds in a supportive environment, and to mold the next generation into successful people who will become leading figures in medicine, politics, academia and technology.

But instead of leaving college with the skills necessary to succeed in the professional world, many students are emerging from their formative years with diagnosable mental health conditions.

One of the most alarming statistics, provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is that one in four young adults, aged 18-24, have a diagnosable mental illness.

Think of four of your closest friends. Now think of how many times you heard them fret over feeling overwhelmed by their obligations or assignments, or watched them drink recklessly in order to forget a bad day, or comforted them when they teared up over the pressure to do well in their classes.

This is the reality of mental health.

All of us, at some point in our lives, have felt overwhelming stress or have overextended ourselves to the point where we seem hardly able to go on.

Among my own friends, I’ve heard this at least five times in the past week.

This is not to say that we all have chronic conditions such as schizophrenia, anxiety or depression.

Most of us probably do not need to be placed on a therapy schedule or to be prescribed medications.

But what about those seven percent of us who will contemplate suicide this year?

What about those who do more than contemplate it, who contribute to making suicide the third leading cause of death on college campuses, by taking their own life?

Think of 100 of your closest acquaintances: sports teammates, classmates, lab mates, club mates, freshmen year friends, high school friends, Greek life sisters and brothers, suitemates, roommates and even people you’ve talked to while waiting in line at the dining hall.

Most likely seven of these people have contemplated suicide.

Maybe some have even attempted it.

While this is startling enough, there’s another story here, the one we’re not seeing.

According to NAMI, 64 percent of college students who have dropped out of school did so for mental health reasons.

The stress of schoolwork, the pressure of peers and the worry of working while in school are just too much for these young adults.

College — a place where we are supposed to find ourselves, define ourselves and refine ourselves — was too much for these students and instead clouded their perception with anxiety, depression and other mental ailments.

College should not be an uphill battle so steep that many of us are unable to continue.

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