Mental Health Month “Mental illness in education”

It may have the same rules and the same applications, but as anyone who has left home to attend a college will testify, college-life is a world of its own. Thus, the usual rules of society are different and that applies to the handling of mental health.

When I first went to college I was surprised at how good the mental health facilities were but I was not in America. Even during post-grad studies in America I was glad there were some mental health facilities for students that were an improvement to what was out there for everyone else.

But that’s just my experience. Since then I have come to see many failings in the provision of mental health resources and support for many students. This includes people of color, foreign students, exchange students, different age students, transgender students, homosexual students, females, males, androgynous students and many more.

By this I mean, one size does not fit all. My own relatively positive experience is not everyone’s.

Girls who report rape on campus, historically were quashed, played down, underreported and asked inappropriate questions. Counselors are often not equipped or trained specifically in sexual assault and sexual trauma, despite that being one of the key reasons a student may seek counseling (exam stress being the number one reason). This goes double for boys who are raped on campus, and transgender students who are raped.

A foreign exchange student unfamiliar with the laws of the land, with their own cultural biases and experiences may not have the kind of emotional support they would get in their country of origin, equally the support may be better.

Stigma and shame are infrequently addressed as leading causes of student drop out rates.

Having taught this age-group I found teachers were picking up the slack and acting as surrogate counselors because of huge cut-backs in school/college/university counselors. It is simply not considered a priority. Example; A local university to me, has cut their counselors from previously 15 to wait for it …. ONE. Yes ONE counselor for the entire student population.

Having academic advisors is equally important as they act as academic counselors, and can also defray some of the potential issues that could turn into mental concerns. Anxiety being the most common symptom reported among students nationally, this dual approach to helping students could reduce drop-out rates but maybe that’s not what universities want? It is known many universities use the first semesters as a form of culling high student bodies, but these are people’s lives? Is that our best approach?

The increasingly difficult and narrow world of work and our work force are causing more and more students to become anxious about what awaits them upon graduation, we cast them out with their degrees and do not offer them any follow-up counseling which they may not be able to afford once they are out of the system. It’s no good patting ourselves on the back for graduating students if we are literally leaving them to sink or swim.

More and more students struggle to pay for increasingly inflated student fees and universities are literally profiting off student accommodation and meal plans, they are becoming real estate magnates owning vast swaths of land that are worth millions and not putting enough investment in the students that make this possible.

Suicide, rape, and the onset of many mental health issues often become apparent during these crucial years away from family often for the first time. It is now that we need to support our young future work force in making the right decisions and helping them with any encroaching mental health issues or we risk having a fall out that will last far longer and cost far more.

Having to personally pay for disability testing as is the case in many universities is wrong because students should not be expected to foot the often prohibitively high costs of disability testing to ensure they are covered by the disability act. This applies to all learning disorders and stress related complaints. For those who believe this is letting students off lightly, ask yourself, what would you do instead? Do you want an uneducated mentally ill workforce instead of one you are trying to help be their very best?

Equally, not everyone should go to university, though all should have the chance, and as such, we should be offering better academic counseling before students enroll at university, because we send them into a system of one size fits all without due regard to individual strengths, interests and needs. Often times someone training in a profession rather than obtaining a degree can earn more and has a more realistic chance of getting a job after they graduate.

Minority students of all walks of life run the risk of isolation, exclusion, racism or prejudicial behavior. Many first time university students whose parents did not go to university have no guidance and can flounder in unfamiliar territory. when I went to a foreign university I had no idea about certain things and it would have helped to have some mentor or guidance for questions.

Finally, resources should include counseling not just medication because we still do not know the long-term effects on the developing brain of strong psychotropic pills.

Students can achieve much of this by petitioning their student council to make this a priority and close the gap between those high functioning students and the attrition rate.