Administration’s Handling of Mental Illness Hurts, not Helps, Afflicted Students

Mental illnesses. They exist. People have them. People at CMU have them. So why don’t we talk about them? Certainly the idea of mental health or mental well being is thrown around often enough. Flyers around campus mention the effects of “stress” and the importance of getting enough sleep – even when the people writing them know that in some cases a lack of  sleep is simply the price to pay for not doing poorly in a class.

But what about mental illness? It feels like the administration does everything it can to avoid bringing up those two words. Perhaps it’s the stereotypes that accompany the term, of someone who is heavily medicated and hospitalitized, which bothers people. And that image is accurate once in a while, but for many individuals that is not a realistic representation of their experience with mental illness. Mild depression constitutes a mental illness, and so do many forms of mild to moderate anxiety. Labeling these conditions of mental illness shouldn’t be a negative thing to do, but often enough it can be stigmatizing and lead those who are suffering to feel isolated. There has been a push for many years to destigmatize mental illness, but there is still much progress to be made.

Why then does this university remain silent? It’s hardly a secret that many students at CMU are under a great deal of stress, and high levels of stress can exacerbate existing mental health issues or result in the appearance of a new condition.This does not mean that CMU as a university causes people to become mentally ill. To say so would deny the complicated mix of genetics and environmental factors which result in mental illness, and to trivialize the emotions and experiences of anyone who has been affected by mental illness. However the university should take a good look at its attitude towards mental illness and the way it talks about mental illness (or doesn’t talk about it). Not everyone is going to feel better after spending 20 minutes in the mindfulness room, and it can be hard to feel that anyone else notices or cares when you feel depressed.

Not talking about mental illness isn’t helping anyone, not those who have a mental illness, not their friends who worry about them, and not the parents who are too far away to observe their child like they used to. Teachers and administrators are also affected, since broaching the topic with a student or asking a student to seek help can be very uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be shameful for someone to tell others they have a mental illness or that they need help, and it shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness, or something people “just need to get over”. Until the university can start talking about mental illness openly and honestly students are going to be at a great disadvantage and may end up suffering as a result. CMU as a university should make an effort to act like the forward thinking school it claims to be in all areas, mental illness included.

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