The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
Last Friday, The Miami Student published a letter to the editor from Jack Yungblut, a Miami student who shared his struggle with depression and his inability to seek help.
In contrast to Yungblut’s experience, today’s issue reports on the increased use of counseling services on campus. Dr. Kip Alishio, director of Student Counseling Service, says this spike is due not only to an increase in need, but also an increase in students’ willingness to reach out.
According to Alishio, Miami participates in a national survey called the Healthy Minds Study. He summarized one finding, saying that in 2007, 73 percent of students said they would be accepting of someone who has received mental health treatment. In 2015, that number was 86 percent. The stigma has decreased by 14 percent in the past eight years.
In addition, the Student Counseling Service (SCS) has been working on making itself more effective. To use the SCS, students must schedule an initial consultation to identify problems and explore options. This session has been cut down from 50 minutes to 20 to 30, a change that works to serve a higher number of students per day. The first three individual sessions are free, and each additional session costs $25; however, that fee is waived if a student proves a need for financial assistance.
This August, the SCS staff welcomed two new members for a total of 20 employees. While waitlists had become “too long for comfort” in the past, Alishio says that now when a student calls to make an appointment, they can usually be seen within one to two days. There are more options for group therapy and workshops than ever before, as well as online training resources.
With all of these improvements, there has been a 13 percent increase in the number of students seen in the first month of school this year as compared to last year. Unfortunately, Yungblut’s letter demonstrates how despite best efforts, students still slip through the cracks. This discrepancy highlights a tragic paradox: while mental health resources are present and accessible, those in need do not always access them.
One obstacle stands in the way: fear. Fear of admitting to yourself that you need help, fear of sharing those feelings with others and fear of judgment if you talk to a professional.
There are many reasons one might need counseling: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sexual assault, a death in the family or even just general stress over schoolwork and planning for the future. Dealing with any of these issues doesn’t make you crazy. Needing help does not make you weak.
There has long been a disconnect between society’s views on physical and mental health. If someone is suffering a physical ailment, there is no shame in going to the doctor for a cure. We rely on medications to treat ailments from headaches to heart disease. Why are we uncomfortable seeking treatment for anxiety or depression? A mental health problem is not a choice. It is a disease.
At the start of the school year, R.A.’s undergo an educational program detailing what types of problems might require counseling and how to breach the sensitive subject. They are given a formula consisting of three valuable sentences: “I believe you. It’s not your fault. There are resources.”
This is a good step, but we need more education for everyone. What if we were all trained to recognize warning signs in our peers and in ourselves? While the counseling service itself is a wonderful resource, it cannot help those who do not seek help. And no amount of awareness-raising fliers or refrigerator magnets can cause a cultural shift on their own.
Every now and then, something like Jack Yungblut’s letter catches our attention and initiates a conversation about mental health. But then we get busy, and become distracted or feel we have “more important things” to worry about. Mental health is important.
In today’s paper, we have a letter from Nadia Dawisha, who appeals to the Miami community saying, “I very much hope that [Jack’s] brave piece sparks a larger conversation in our community about mental health.”
We share this same hope. We need to legitimize the idea of mental health problem as just that — health problems. We need to be more willing to talk about this unnecessarily taboo subject, whether that means confiding in a friend or letting them know they can confide in us. We need to talk and we need to listen. The only thing to be embarrassed or ashamed of is our current attitude toward mental health.