Mental health stigma deprives students from seeking assistance
For many students mental health does not fit in their hierarchy of needs, therefore they do not consider seeking help from a mental health professional as an option. But if students do not seek out assistance during mental illness, than negative results could follow in every aspect of their lives.
“I have had problems with depression because of all the stress from work, family and school. I noticed that I stopped hanging out with friends, and I started seeing failing grades,” said Raphael Velasquez, a junior and general business major.
Velasquez sought assistance on his own and is doing much better today. At the time, he wasn’t aware of mental health resources on campus. And he was surprised when he was told these services were available.
The Student Counseling & Wellness Services Department at Texas A&M University-San Antonio has seen a 30 percent increase in appointments for services between the fall of 2016 through the fall of 2017, said Rachel Lutz, licensed social worker and director of counseling and wellness board approved supervisor at A&M-San Antonio.
“There has been a high increase of students on campus confronting issues with depression, anxiety, social anxiety, family distress, and hostility,” Lutz said. “Every day we have high rates of students on this campus endorsing thoughts of suicide.”
In the United States alone, “43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year. It affects everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation,” according to The National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The Student Counseling & Wellness Services Department currently staffs four licensed mental health professionals and recently hired a psychologist. All of the clinicians are well-trained in order to meet the demand. They see a large number of students coming in with trauma, therefore all clinicians are trained in three different evidence-based interventions for this area. The department’s goal is to help the students define underlying issues which may be causing their current mental illness.
“All the clinicians are licensed mental health professionals and the services we offer are state of the art and students can access them at no charge,” Lutz said.
As A&M-San Antonio continues to increase student enrollment, the need for mental health awareness and assistance will also see a substantial increase.
As a means to monitor mental illness on campuses throughout the nation, many collegiate counseling centers are using Titanium, an electronic medical record-keeping database bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) laws. The data recorded within this private server helps universities and colleges track confidential files and reflect which mental illnesses are affecting students the most, in comparison to other collegiate institutions.
According to Titanium, one out of three students who visit the counseling department at A&M-San Antonio endorse thoughts of suicide, which is more than the national average.
The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) is another innovative resource which collegiate institutions use in order to respond to the high demand for mental illness on campuses throughout the world. AUCCCD provides counseling directors assistance in leading and managing their centers on campus. Their mission is to “promote the awareness of student mental health and development issues in higher education through research, advocacy, education, and training provided to members, professional organizations, and the public.” The counseling department at A&M San Antonio is not a member of AUCCCD but is subscribed to the association’s guidelines and recommended standards of practice.
If mental illness is not treated and prolonged for a long period of time then fatal consequences can follow, such as suicide. In 2015 The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported suicide as second leading cause of death between the ages of 15-24. Due to the alarming suicide increase in the nation, the Texas Legislature requires all students entering a 4-year university undergo a preventative online program or video. The presentation provides students information about mental health and suicide prevention services.
From her collegiate counseling research point of view, Lutz said, some students who attend the university perhaps are not familiar with mental health due to marginalization or social-economic issues. They may lack access to mental health resources. Also, culturally many have been told that mental health is not for them. As the end result, struggling students become overwhelmed and exhaust their own personal coping skills, and finally “as a last resort,” decide to seek help.
In the Fall 2017 semester, Lutz and her team dedicated 68 hours to promoting resources and reached 2,400 students. In order to meet the needs of students, the department invests time scheduling events to reduce the stigma associated with mental health, and to inform students about counseling services.
The department offers short-term individual, couples, and group counseling services for all students at no charge [See a list of services]. Staff strive to provide ample resources where anyone can access, from emergency resources through after-hour suicide prevention hotlines. Resources.
“At the end of the day, it’s our job to keep students safe,” Lutz said.