Tips with Trish: What is mental illness?

The Mental Health Crisis Among College Students

(Substituting an article about mental illness in place of this week’s Tips with Trish for Mental Illness Awareness Week).

The National Alliance of Mental Illness defines mental illness as “a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis.” Research suggests that there are many causes to a mental health condition including genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle influences. There is often a chemical imbalance in the brain that plays a role, but a traumatic event or a stressful situation can also make some people more susceptible than others.

There has been an increasing amount of media attention on the boost in mental health issues among college students in the past decade. This increase can be seen on the Loras College campus as well. Here are some thoughts as to why higher education is seeing more students with mental health issues:
First of all, the stigma that mental illness exists among those who are “sick” or “crazy” or “weak” is no longer holding up. Society is finally recognizing that mental illness does not discriminate and that anyone can be affected. Mental illness exists throughout all cultures, races, religious affiliations, educational levels, and/or socioeconomic status. This doesn’t, however, mean that people of all these disciplines are open to the fact that mental illness exists, but only that society has opened its doors on who is being affected.

This is progress because with more awareness comes more treatment. And there is more treatment available today than there was decades ago. The increase in prevalence on college campuses suggests that students with severe emotional stress are getting better treatment before coming to college whether through counseling, medication or both. This means that more people with mental health issues are actually going to college when they may not have years ago because they were not able to be successful or there was not enough support available. Students are also receiving better education, outreach and support and feeling more empowered to continue their educational experience. This is progress because all people, no matter what condition or disability, deserve to be educated and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

College counseling centers have recorded an increase in the prevalence and severity of mental health issues experienced by students. One in four young adults between the ages of 18-24 has a diagnosable mental illness. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for this same age group. Anxiety and depression are the top mental health conditions seen on campuses around the country as well as here at Loras College.

Lastly, although other generations have had some of the same or different stressors, the fact that higher education is as expensive as it is, can be part of the stress leading students to seek help. Students may be trying to balance work with school more than they have in the past because the cost has gone up and parents or loans only go so far. The opportunity for involvement in outside activities is also on the rise and many students are struggling to find the right balance, adding more stress to their life. A case can also be made that students may be less resilient than in past generations because parents are more involved in their lives and less able to do things on their own.

Well, regardless of the reasons for the increase in mental health needs among college students, the main focus should be to ensure that the students that need help get the help they need. Thankfully, Loras provides its students with a counseling center staffed with two licensed counselors. Some colleges outsource their counseling so on-site help is not available. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, please let them know that services are available and are free and confidential.

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