Increasing demand for mental health assistance requires University attention

By Cassandra Masters, Columnist

Thousands of students suffer from mental illnesses here at the University, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and extreme self-esteem issues. Awareness of the prevalence of mental illness, however, seems to fall behind the needs of the student body.

Mental health is crucial for anyone, but it is of utmost importance to young adults. Not only are they caught in the middle between adolescence and adulthood, and expected to consider their future goals, but they must also deal with the many day-to-day stresses of a college schedule.

There is an overall lack of empathy for those struggling to keep up with these stresses, as well as those who have developed more severe mental health issues, such as prolonged depression and anxiety. Both a lack of awareness and lack of resources has led to a lack of mental health empathy, causing further isolation of these particularly stressed students.

Professors lack lenient attendance and due date policies. Greek organizations and RSOs hold intense commitment standards. Faculty members emphasize a student’s worth based on GPA or future career goals, as opposed to self-development. Students face pressure from their own peers, parents and professors, and can barely keep up with those demands, let alone their own standards.

DRES, the Disability Resources and Educational Services Program on campus, works to assure those with both physical and mental disabilities are given an equal education. DRES, however, seems to be less accommodating to short-term issues, and lacks clarity on the particular issues they can assist with.

The initiatives taken by different resources on campus, such as the Counseling Center, Women’s Resources Center, DRES, etc. have not carried on through the voices of students, creating a challenging dynamic that reinforces the many stigmas revolving around mental illness.

Although the Counseling Center receives great amounts of funding and support, they are unable to accommodate for all students, all the time. Students are only allowed 12 appointments during their entire University careers— any prolonged issues must be addressed through external services, which are often not paid for by health insurance.

On top of that, the process for setting up a consultation and appointment can be lengthy. You must make an appointment on the day of your visit, but most spots are filled within the first few hours after the center opens. I once had to wait nearly two weeks to see a counselor, at which point I had already sought external resources to cope with the immediate issues.

I could have accessed the emergency services from the center, but those resources seem to be limited for cases of suicide, sexual assault and other immediate threats. I felt guilty taking up those resources from people more in need, but still thought my issues demanded more immediate attention.

This problem, however, is not solely an issue at the University. The roots of this issue extend far beyond any one person or group, and must be analyzed at a broader social perspective. Our society pressures people to hide mental health issues, as if they are forbidden or taboo. Intensive depression and anxiety-related issues, some believe, can simply be “solved” with an attitude adjustment.

Meanwhile, we are quick to run to the doctor for any physical ailment, and rely on modern medicine for other physical illnesses. Are our minds of less value simply because their problems are more complex than a broken arm?

These stigmas relating to mental health consequently lead to both a lack of fiscal and social investment in helping those with mental health issues. Funding for mental health institutions has been drastically cut, and funding for programs to assist people in need have diminished.

Some of Gov. Rauner’s proposed budget cuts for the 2016 fiscal year include drastic cuts to the Division of Mental Health within Illinois’ Department of Human Services: $82 million will be cut, which is a 15 percent reduction.

Too many people, no matter what stage in their lives, struggle with unhealthy amounts of stress on a regular basis, and we continuously shame them for not working hard enough, not caring enough or not “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” enough.

If students were to be more open regarding these struggles that so many of us face, perhaps we could provide more impactful assistance to others.

How can the University continue to produce such great scholars, researchers and innovators if they can barely provide us with the resources needed to keep students mentally healthy?

We must hold our peers, professors and the University as a whole accountable — there should be a surplus of resources available on campus for students with mental health issues.

As students, we must begin to value our minds and self-worth over our GPA, and we must demand the attention mental health desperately needs in our collegiate environment.

Cassandra is a sophomore in LAS.

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