Addressing the issue of mental illness is difficult as the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues is strenuous to navigate.
Recently, I’ve been working with a team of communication students at DePaul through the Bateman Case Competition, a national competition for Public Relations and Advertising student. Students who work to create a campaign, #ToughToBeTough, to educate students at DePaul about the five signs of emotional distress.
According to the Campaign to Change Direction, a national nonprofit working to change the culture of mental health, the five signs are defined as: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care and hopelessness. Through the #ToughToBeTough campaign, we’ve created opportunities for people to take time for themselves to talk about what is affecting their mental well-being and to learn about the mental health services offered at our school.
For students of underrepresented groups, such as Latinx, African Americans and the LGTBQ community, mental health issues are becoming increasingly common. Yet, these populations are unlikely to ask for help.
According to the The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Latinx communities are as likely as the general population to have a mental illness, yet only 20 percent of them seek out help. In the case of African Americans, they’re 20 percent more likely to have mental health problems than the general population, but are culturally predisposed to try to solve their own issues therefore do not seek out professional help. This situation puts our classmates in danger.
There are multiple resources on campus for DePaul students who are dealing with mental illness. The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness provides education, programming and support to foster healthy behaviors, and University Counseling Services (UCS) offers a range of short-term services for individuals, couples and groups. These offices offer free or low-cost, short-term resources that are available without judgment to all DePaul students.
While these resources offer a lot of assistance for minority students, the lack of a diverse counseling staff at DePaul represents a challenge for getting minority students to seek help.
As a response, UCS recently hired an outreach coordinator who is focused on connecting with other offices on campus that serve underrepresented populations. This is in part a response to their acknowledgement that there is a lot of stigma around seeking support.
This is a problem all of our community should be trying to help each other deal with, and the newly hired outreach coordinator represents DePaul’s actions to improve mental health on campus.
Because studies show that those who don’t seek help for symptoms of mental health turn to self-harming behaviors to alleviate feelings that are hard to deal with, creating an environment that makes students feel comfortable seeking help is an important part of changing DePaul’s mental health culture.
As part of the #ToughToBeTough campaign, we conducted an anonymous survey of 158 DePaul students and found that nearly a quarter of them reported turning to drugs and alcohol as a way to relieve stress. This rate is higher among marginalized groups, especially LGBTQ students.
As members of the DePaul community, it is our responsibility to do something to help address these issues.
For too long, our peers that are most vulnerable have been left to try to tough it out on their own. We have the power and opportunity to help them overcome the cultural barriers and fears that might keep them from reaching out. In order to help solve this growing problem, professors and peers should be educated to recognize Campaign to Change Direction’s Five Signs.
If students are better educated and can work to view their mental health as equally as important as their physical health, getting help will have less of a stigma attached to it and students will be less likely to partake in self-harming behaviors in order to relieve extreme stress.