This has become a popular statistic used in generating awareness about mental illness, and perhaps an indicator that society has begun to understand that mental health should be taken just as seriously as physical health. Although, while mental health/illness has started to make an appearance as a major issue across all populations it remains stigmatized due to a lack of knowledge and understanding, resulting in negative attitudes.
Post-secondary students have received a lot of attention in recent years due to alarming mental health statistics. Those listed below are from a survey of 30,000 students across 30 Canadian Institutions (universities and colleges) (American College Health Association, 2013).
Anytime within the last 12 months:
- 56.5% of students felt overwhelming anxiety
- 37.5% of students felt so depressed it was difficult to function
- 9.5% of students seriously considered suicide (approx. 95 in 1000 students)
After numerous studies and staggering statistics mental health has become a prevalent issue across university and college campuses. Yet, the majority of students do not seek help for mental health issues such as those listed in the statistics above. This is a problem, for without treatment symptoms of a mental illness can result in impairments in everyday functioning, effecting concentration, productivity, and communication; and in most severe untreated cases, suicide. So with consequences as severe as death, why are students not seeking help for issues with their mental health? This is a puzzle that requires multiple pieces to fully understand the whole picture.
One group of researchers tried to answer a piece of this puzzle by examining the relationship between perceived campus culture and mental health help-seeking intentions. In simpler terms, they wanted to know if a student’s perception of their campus’s (i.e. peer, student body and faculty) beliefs regarding mental health treatment would affect the student’s own attitude towards seeking mental health treatment. So, if I believe my campus thinks mental health treatment is stupid, will I believe it is stupid too and then not seek help? After having a sample of 212 undergraduate students from a large university in the United States fill out surveys, researchers found this relationship to be supported. Indicating that campus culture can indirectly effect whether a student intends on seeking help for mental health issues by influencing their personal attitudes.
So how does this study’s finding help with the problem of students not seeking help with mental health? By focusing on campus culture regarding mental health, student attitudes are targeted and consequently their behaviours towards seeking help. Displaying positive mental health beliefs through campus mental health policies and prevention/awareness programming can help do this. An example of this is mental health awareness week, which had become a common event on most campuses to generate awareness about the importance of mental health. Although, one or two weeks are a great start, more strategies are needed.
There is one organization already taking on campus culture in its own exciting way after recognizing the importance of mental health for students. Jack.org is a student led organization that has clubs/chapters in both high schools and post-secondary schools across Canada. Student volunteers hold various events on campus through out the academic year that start a conversation about mental health with the student body and faculty. This organization develops positive attitudes around mental health while also supporting mental health resources, with a larger objective to eliminate stigma both on and off campus, starting with students.
Hopefully campuses take this research and apply it, based on the understanding that it can influence students to seek mental health support by changing personal attitudes. If so, students suffering in silence will have the opportunity to improve their ability to function in various areas including work, school and relationships as well as get back to being a student.
Although, while it is important to figure out how to help the students who may be suffering in silence; further research and discussion about why mental illness has become so prevalent in post-secondary students is needed, taking on a more preventative approach.
So, now I ask you, is your campus taking care of your mental health by projecting positive beliefs towards mental health and treatment? If not, it may be time to change campuses or better yet, change YOUR campus.
Chen, J. I., Romero, G. D., & Karver, M. S. (2015). The relationship of perceived campus culture to mental health help-seeking intentions. Journal of Counseling Psychology. doi:10.1037/cou000009
American College Health Association. (2013). Canadian Reference Group Executive Summary, Spring 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cacuss.ca/health_data.htm