College is the time in which students cultivate their professional identities, but there is also a personal transformation that occurs.
Students are crafting their true sense of selves. The person that is present without their parent’s influence and their societal norms. Everything they thought they knew is constantly being challenged and tested.
Intellectual transformation is one of the most riveting parts of the college experience, but the change in mental health is often left out of the conversation.
There is a lot of pressure put on the average college student, not to mention those who are the first of their families to attend college, those who are minority students and/or those who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
In addition to demanding school work, students are tasked with balancing a healthy social, physical and personal life. While attempting to create any balance, the mental health of college students is usually left at the back burner.
According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, college students are not immune to the suffering and disability associated with mental illness, despite them being seen as a privileged population.
There are plenty of reasons why mental health is a taboo amongst college students. Mental health issues are often equated with insanity. Students are ostracized for their illness and resort to hiding it to avoid backlash.
Some see any mental health issue as a sign of weakness. If a student was raised to believe that mental health is not a real thing, or only a ‘rich people’ issue, they are more likely to be in-denial.
The same study reports there are barriers that prevent students from seeking help, including lack of time, privacy concerns, lack of emotional openness and financial constraints. Students do not always have the resources for them to effectively handle their mental illness.
Even Salisbury University’s Counseling Center has faced backlash for its inadequate resources. There are only four full-time counselors currently employed, despite the school’s growing population.
This violates the guidelines set by the International Association of Counseling Services, which recommends one full-time counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. Salisbury has a student population of more than 8,500.
The lack of support given to the Counseling Center is also telling. It gives off the notion that if the mental health of Salisbury students is not a priority to administration, students should not worry about it either.
This results with college students taking matters into their own hands. The coping mechanism of most students is alcohol, which results in a higher prevalence of alcohol disorders, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Binge-drinking is a socially acceptable way for them to attempt to suppress their mental health symptoms. But alcohol is actually a depressant, so the use of it as a coping mechanism only increases the severity of their symptoms.
These same students have a higher chance of falling behind in school and even contemplating suicide.
It is important to note that mental health disorders do not discriminate. Around half of college students deal with mental illness. 18 percent of students have a personality disorder, 11 percent have a mood disorder and 12 percent deal with anxiety disorders.
There is no poster child for mental illness, nor is there a physical or socioeconomic stereotype that truly represents it. Any student is at risk, and so mental health awareness should be a priority for all students.
Cultivating a healthy mental state should be just as important to students and administration as preparing for the workforce. It will much harder to integrate into professional life if students have not come to terms with their mental health.
Improving our Counseling Center, promoting these resources and ending stereotypes on mental illness are great first steps to creating an environment in which students feel acknowledged and prepared to be their best selves.
By NADIA WILLIAMS