Determining what’s behind the stigma


Mental illness seems to become more prevalent in young adults during college, and TCU students are not immune.

After six TCU students committed suicide in the past four years, the university has increased its suicide prevention programs. Receiving a $250,000 grant, the university has chosen to fund programs that intend to erase the stigma surrounding mental health.

Stress, anxiety, depression and eating disorders are the main reasons students have suicidal thoughts, according to the TCU Counseling and Mental Health Center.

For those experiencing these issues, admitting there is a problem can be hard. It is difficult for people to be open about their struggles when they can’t recognize something is wrong.

But it’s not just students who struggle to talk about mental illness.

“It’s OK to talk about things,” said Dr. Vanessa Miller, an instructor who has a master’s in clinical psychology. “But that’s the problem—people don’t think it’s OK.”

Not talking about it, she said, suppresses the importance of the issue. Rather, talking and accepting is the first step.

“Being able to talk about it and recognize feelings of anxiety, or suicide even, is key,” Miller said.

Many students living with mental health conditions do not get help. Concern of stigma is the number one reason why they do not.

Some worry that their issue would be seen as a sign of weakness.

“People worry that they will be viewed as weak,” Miller said. “Also, not wanting other people to know because ‘Other people aren’t going to understand, which means I have a problem.'”

A problem.

It’s not so much a problem, said Miller, but rather struggles everyone goes through—just at different times, which is why things may seem hard to handle.

While transition to college can be exciting it can also be challenging, but it can be even more challenging for students coping with mental health issues. College is one of the main reasons for stress. Miller said it is normal to experience these issues at this point in life.

Normal to a certain extent.

It can be beneficial for those who struggle with mental illnesses to do something to address their issues.

Seeing a professional might help provide stability. Miller said she believes society judges too much. Seeking assistance from someone who “can help can put perspective on one’s mental state,” though, could change that perception.

Not only does seeing a professional provide an outlet for support, it also provides an environment that doesn’t judge.

Creating an open culture around mental illness is vital.

Good therapists are not going to facially react to anything individuals tell them, Miller said.

“They may think something but they aren’t going to react because they don’t want you to shut down,” she said. “But we do that all the time in society as we react with disgrace.”

It takes other people to realize that it is OK to accept having a mental illness. People’s reactions and attitudes toward mental health ultimately frames the stigma.

This is one part to ‘Behind the Stigma,’ a piece made for a multi-platform capstone class. Read the full story here.