Study probes mental health

Stigma hinders college students from seeking psychological help, report finds


A majority of college dropouts suffering from mental health conditions cited psychological illness as their reason for withdrawing from college, according to a report published Tuesday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness

From August to November 2011, the organization surveyed 765 people diagnosed with a mental health condition who were currently enrolled in college or enrolled within the past five years. Of the students surveyed who said they are no longer attending college, 64 percent said they dropped out because of a mental health condition.

The study found that more than 45 percent of those who stopped attending college because of mental health reasons did not receive institutional accommodations, such as learning needs assistance, and 50 percent did not access mental health services.

There are underlying reasons why such students do not receive the support they need, report co-author Darcy Gruttadaro said in an email. “Stigma remains the number one barrier to accessing mental health services and supports,” Gruttadaro said.

The report defines stigma as “fear or concern for the impact disclosing [their condition] would have on how students, faculty and staff perceive them.”

Stigma remains a powerful force motivating students not to seek help, the report found. Half of the students surveyed had not disclosed their diagnosis to their college.

Russ Federman, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Student Health, agreed. “[Recently] more students have come forward to receive help, but that doesn’t mean that some students don’t stay away from treatment,” Federman said.

Many students enter the University with preexisting mental health issues, Federman said. The school’s competitive environment can render some of those students unable to perform academically and socially.

Stigma is not the only factor leading students to avoid seeking help for their mental conditions, but
it is the most prevalent, according to the study. Gruttadaro said the best way to combat stigma is to raise the awareness of mental health problems on college campuses and create a more supportive atmosphere. The study found that 48 percent of students rated their college as “somewhat supportive” or “not very supportive” of mental health issues.

“One of the major ways to combat stigma is through education, training and information sharing,” Gruttadaro said. “It is important to raise awareness across the campus community about the prevalence of mental health conditions so that students know that they are not alone and to stress the importance of getting help.”

Forty percent of the survey takers had not accessed mental health services and support on campus, whereas 55 percent had. Of this 55 percent, 70 percent rated the services and supports as “good” or “excellent.” Gruttadaro said providing useful mental health services was only part of a university’s responsibility when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

“It is equally important to ensure that students know how to access mental health services and supports with information visible on the college’s website and visible throughout the campus,” Gruttadaro said.

Eighty-two percent of those who responded to the survey were female and 82 percent were Caucasian. Women are two times more likely than men to experience depression, which may help explain the high percentage of women who responded to the survey, according to the report. Gruttadaro said there was a high response rate overall.

One of the students quoted in the report discusses the difficulty of speaking out about mental health problems.

“They may not want to tell you this is why they are falling behind, missing class, seeming disengaged,” the student said. “Please be sensitive and understand mental health problems are ‘real’ problems.”

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