College student doing homework.

Dealing with the Mental Health Stigma Among College Students

It’s becoming more widely known that many young adults are struggling with mental health issues every day. Many times, these young adults are college students who don’t know how to get the help they need, or who to go to for it.

Dealing with the mental health stigma among college students is a necessary task that should be taken seriously at every school. Addressing the mental health stigma is the first step to creating a safer, healthier, and happier environment for every college student. In this blog, we will explain how you can help bring awareness to mental health issues and destigmatize it in your community.

What is Mental Health Stigma?

Stigma is a term used when someone sees another person in a negative light due to a particular characteristic or attribute. In this case, mental health stigma refers to the negative connotation which surrounds mental health issues and mental illness

Mental health stigma occurs when a person begins to define another by their illness rather than who they are as an individual. For example, someone could refer to a person as “psychotic” rather than “a person with psychosis.” 

The overall issue with stigmatization is that it makes people out to be their diagnosis. When you stigmatize mental health, you’re forcing those suffering from it to believe that they are nothing more than their mental illness. 

The Harmful Effects of Stigma

There are countless harmful effects of mental health stigma, and oftentimes, these effects could be the reason people with mental illness feel as though there is no way out. The following are just a few harmful effects: 

  • Feelings of shame, hopelessness, and isolation
  • Reluctance to ask for help or to get treatment
  • Lack of understanding from family, friends, or others
  • Fewer opportunities for employment and/or social interaction
  • Bullying, physical violence, or harassment
  • Self-doubt (the belief that you will never overcome your illness or be able to achieve what you want in life)

Misconceptions About Mental Health

The first thing to consider when dealing with the mental health stigma among college students is why it is there, to begin with. The reason there is a stigma surrounding mental health is that our society is full of myths about mental illness and mental health. Instead of knowing the facts, we often choose to believe these misconceptions. Below, we’ve listed some of the most common misconceptions about mental health

Myth: Mental illnesses are not that common.

Truth: Mental health statistics have shown that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health condition in a given year. Some of these include:

Myth: People with mental illnesses cannot work.

Truth: A past mental health study showed that 54.5% of individuals with severe conditions were employed, compared with 75.9% of people without a mental illness. In addition, 68.8% of people with mild mental illness were also employed.

Myth: Mental health problems are permanent.

Truth: There are many resources that prove that people with mental health problems and mental illnesses can recover with the proper guidance, treatments, and possibly medications.

Adult assisting stressed student.

The Importance of Mental Wellness in College Students

Struggling with mental health issues can have long-term consequences including future employment, earning potential, overall health, and personal relationships, which is why mental health in college students is extremely important. 

Mental health problems can affect many areas of a student’s life and inevitably reduce their quality of life. When this happens, it results in changes in academic achievement, physical health, and their entire college experience. Studies have shown that mental health problems can hurt the performance of students due to a lack of energy, concentration, dependability, mental ability, and optimism. 

In addition, other sources have confirmed that better mental health and well-being in college students can help with increased mental retention and performance. When a student feels supported and successful in school, their self-esteem and emotional health will vastly improve. 

Lastly, suicide is the leading cause of death among young adults. Many college students go into college with pre-existing mental health issues, but don’t seek out the help they need to be healthy and successful in school. Suicide prevention is necessary to ensure students are not only receiving the help they need but also are aware of the signs and symptoms of those struggling.

Young adult talking to a mental health professional.

Why Is There an Increase in Mental Health Issues on College Campuses?

The increase in mental health issues on college campuses can be traced back to multiple reasons. Statistics show that about 50% of psychiatric disorders begin around the age of 14 and over 75% arise by the age of 25. This means that young adults in college are in the prime window for developing mental health issues. 

This continues to be a problem since many students aren’t properly prepared to manage stress, feelings of exhaustion, and homesickness. The feelings are also often grouped with the experience of developing and navigating new personal relationships. 

Other reasons there’s an increase in mental health issues for young adults include: 

  • Suicidal ideation can increase from 6 percent to 11 percent
  • Mental health diagnoses can increase from 22 percent to 36 percent
  • Pressure to succeed
  • Financial worries
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Increased technology and social media
  • Isolation 
  • Relationship challenges

Another important factor to remember is that while 18 is the age someone legally becomes an adult, in reality, the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 26. Before this time the brain is driven and influenced mainly by emotions making young adults more prone to mental health issues. 

COVID-19 has also significantly impacted people’s mental health. Studies have shown that symptoms of anxiety disorders and depressive disorders have increased considerably during April and June 2020. These changes may be due to the isolation, stress, and fear of the pandemic. 

4 Ways to Help Break the Mental Health Stigma Among College Students

There are many different ways to help break mental health stigma among college students. Implementing some of these will put your college campus on the right track to creating a safer and healthier environment. Below, we’ve listed 4 ways you can begin making changes to end the stigma.

1. Establish New Educational Platforms Around Mental Health and Illness

One of the reasons for the increase in mental health stigma among college students is the lack of information and education around the topic. Many people aren’t fully aware of the signs, symptoms, or consequences of those suffering from mental illness. 

Establishing educational platforms on college campuses that inform students about mental health will not only benefit those who are afraid to ask for help. It will prepare other students to find assistance for a friend or classmate in need. Once students are able to recognize and address fear, stress, and behavior changes they will be able to start a conversation and spread awareness. 

2. Increase Access to Mental Health Services

Making mental health services easily accessible on campuses is imperative to keeping students safe and content. Young adults need to feel supported and know that there are places and people they can go to if they’re struggling mentally. Many times students are afraid or ashamed to ask for help, and what makes that worse is that they don’t know how to get the help they need. 

Increasing access to mental health services on college campuses will remind students that there is help available and all they have to do is ask. These services should also be flexible so any student, no matter their major or extracurriculars, can receive assistance. In addition to more mental health services, college campuses should emphasize the importance of staying healthy physically and mentally. 

3. Work with College Administrators to Change the System

In order to change the stigma surrounding mental health in college, everyone must play their part. It’s not only up to the students and mental health professionals, college administrators, and professors need to be proactive as well. Students often see their administrators and professors as role models, which is why they need to take part in making changes as well. 

Implementing proper mental health training and education for college administrators and professors will result in extra support for students. This way if a student is struggling, people will know what steps to take to keep them safe.

4. Normalize — Don’t Stigmatize

The last and most important factor in destigmatizing mental health is to spread awareness. By starting conversations about mental health, people will learn that it’s not something rare, it’s something that affects countless young adults every day. 

This is especially true in times like the present when people are dealing with the stress of COVID-19 in our society. There are ways young adults can look out for each other and help spread awareness about mental health even in light of the pandemic. Once our society begins to normalize the fact that college students are struggling with mental health issues, it will be easier for students to ask for help. 

Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, and you are not alone. That is the message of hope we need to spread across college campuses, and the sooner that happens, the sooner lives will be saved. 

College students working together and supporting each other.

If you or a young adult you know is struggling with mental health issues, learn about how our mental health services and treatments can help.