Faculty Spotlight: Mental Health Stigma

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Mental health problems affect many college students. According to a national survey, 27% of students reported they experience depression, 24% experience bipolar disorder, 11% experience anxiety, and 12% experience other mental health problems, including eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.

Stigma refers to the negative attitudes and misperceptions about people with mental health conditions. It can lead to stereotypes, like “people with mental illness are dangerous and unpredictable.” Some students may encounter stigma against mental health from their family, friends, and community. Others may experience self-stigma, meaning that they internalize the stigma against mental illness that is prevalent in society. Self-stigma leads to lower self-esteem, lower self-efficacy, and hopelessness.

Stigma is a significant barrier to seeking treatment among college students. In fact, 36% of students with mental health problems noted that stigma stops them from seeking help. Mental health stigma also differentially impacts students from different racial backgrounds. Research shows that stigma predicts less help seeking for mental health problems most strongly among Arabic and Asian American students, followed by African American and mixed race students.

One of the best ways to combat stigma is to be informed. Here’s what faculty and staff can do to combat the stigma against mental illness:

  • Know the common warning signs of mental illness
  • Be proactive in connecting students to resources and encouraging students to seek help
    • 22% of students say they learn about mental health resources from faculty or staff
  • Reach out to students to voice your concerns
    • Try saying “I’ve noticed that you’re [late to class more, look more fatigued]. Is everything ok?”
    • “I’ve noticed you aren’t acting like yourself. Is something going on?”
  • Know that mental health conditions are real and as serious as physical health issues
  • Understand the students with mental health problems are able to be successful in school




Abusive Relationships

Abusive relationships and dating violence are a widespread problem on college campuses. 43% of college women report experiencing violent or abusive dating behavior, and 52% report knowing a friend who experienced violent or abusive dating behaviors. An abusive relationship is a pattern of behaviors used to maintain power and control over a partner. It can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical. Often threats, isolation, and intimidation are used. Technology is another major method that abusers can use to abuse or harass their partner. This can include:

  • Monitoring their partner’s email communication
  • Sending repeated emails or texts
  • Using social networking sites to get information about their partner and to monitor their partner’s messages and friendships
  • Using GPS devices to monitor their partner’s location

Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless or gender, age, sexual orientation, race, or economic background. It’s important to know the warning signs:

  • Checking your cellphone or email without permission
  • Constantly putting you down
  • Extreme jealousy, insecurity, or possessiveness
  • Explosive temper or mood swings
  • Isolating you from family or friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Telling you what to do or pressuring you to have sex

People stay in abusive relationships for many different reasons. Some people experience conflicting emotions about abuse, including fear, embarrassment, and love. There may also be social or cultural pressures that influence people to stay in abusive relationships. Others may rely on their abusive partner for financial support or feel helpless in their situation.

There are things that you can do to help support a friend who is in an abusive relationship:

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend who you are worried about. Help your friend recognize that abuse is not normal and is not their fault
  • Be supportive and listen without judging
  • Physical safety is a big priority – tell your friend if you’re worried about their physical safety and help them develop a plan for what to do
  • Make sure your friend knows they are not alone
  • Help your friend locate resources

If you are worried about your own or a friend’s imminent safety, call Safety and Security (206-281-2911) or tell your Resident Life Coordinator. If you are struggling in an abusive relationship, know that you are not alone and that there are resources that can help. These resources may help you receive anonymous support, and if you feel safe doing so, make an appointment with the Student Counseling Center.



Keeping in Touch with Family and Friends

For many college students, starting college meant moving away from home. Some may have moved across the country, while others may have family and friends nearby. In either case, a lot of college students report that their relationships with family and friends shift somewhat after starting college. Some students say they feel anxiety about being “out of touch” or disconnected with their family and friends back home. Friends and family may also put pressure on you to keep in touch or show disappointment if you don’t call enough. The tension and balance between being present at college and keeping in touch with your family and friends back home can be a major source of relationship stress.

While it can feel lonely or scary to go through these relationship changes, it is a normal part of your development as a person. You are learning to be more independent, make new relationships, and become your own person. As you become more immersed in your college experience, you can decide how much contact feels right for you to have with your family and friends back home. Some may decide that calling home once every other week is enough for them, while others may communicate with far away family and friends on a daily basis.

If you do decide you want to stay in touch with family and friends, one of the biggest factors is making an effort to do so. Staying in contact with friends and family does not have to be a huge time commitment, especially in our age of social media. Texting, commenting on photos or posts, or sending Snaps can go a long way to maintaining relationships. Here are some other ways that you can keep in touch:

  • Send actual mail – receiving a letter, package, or postcard can feel like a treat!
  • Visit them or have them visit you
  • Teach your parents how to use social media – this may feel awkward at first, but it can help you stay connected without having to spend hours on the phone
  • Make time for both family and friends when you visit home

However much contact you decide to have with family and friends back home, do what makes sense for you. Trying to stay connected on a daily basis can work for some students, but create additional stress for others. If your family or friends are wanting more contact than is right for you, try setting boundaries about how much contact should be expected, and honor your commitments. This can help all parties involved feel a sense of ease because they know when or how often they will receive a call.

Talking to Professors

As students, we see professors nearly every day. Many students feel nervous and anxious about talking with professors or attending office hours. Having positive relationships with your professors can be quite beneficial. Students with positive relationships with their professors often have higher academic achievement and feel more connected to the school’s community. Furthermore, there may come a time when you need a letter of recommendation from your professor - having a positive relationship with them will help them write a strong letter for you.

So how do we get past the nervousness and talk to our professors? Here are some steps that can help you get started:

  1. Visit your professor during their office hours or make an appointment
  2. Use respectful communication, and honor relationship boundaries – you may become informal and friendly with your professors as you get to know them, but remember that it is a professional relationship
  3. Be prepared when you arrive
    1. If you have questions about the course material, try writing down your questions, so you’ll be sure to remember them.
    2. If you are having problems personally, academically, or otherwise, be honest with your professor. Your professor may be able to have some flexibility with you or be able to help you access resources.
    3. If you are going to dispute a grade, don’t make excuses, but come prepared to offer other solutions, like doing extra work, asking for help with the course material, or re-doing the assignment. Your professor may say “no,” but your commitment to learning may make a favorable impression on them, and you may end up getting some extra help.
    4. If you are looking for advice about how to exceed in a particular field, ask your professor with tips about how to do so.
  4. Your professors are regular people too, with interests, hobbies, and families. Ask your professor how they got interested in their field or to talk to you about their research.

And remember, many professors actually like talking with students and helping students enhance their learning. Check out more tips about talking to your professor here. Having a plan before you talk with your professor can ease some of the anxiety ahead of time, and the more you talk with your professors, the more comfortable you will become!

Dealing with Roommate Conflict

This month’s focus is on common relationship problems that college students face. Relationship problems can have rippling effects in our lives, including increasing stress and impacting our academics. One of the most common types of relationship problems among college students is roommate conflict. About one-third of students report having problems with their roommates.

For some students, college is the first time you’ve had to share space with others, and for other students, they may have had plenty of experience sharing rooms before. Regardless of your situation, there are some common roommate conflicts the most people experience:

  • Cleanliness: some people like to keep their space cleaner, and others prefer a messier living environment
  • Noise: some students like to listen to music, talk on the phone, or watch TV when they are in their room, while other students might prefer to relax in peace and quiet
  • Guests: some people like to have their room or home be private sanctuary where they can be with few people and distractions, and other people really enjoy having friends around a lot of the time

Many roommate conflicts come about because of differences in how students want to live in their space. Some problems can also arise through conflicts between you and your roommate’s values or personalities. These problems can start right at the beginning of the year, or they can come up or worsen over the course of the year.

A lot of roommate conflicts can be solved with respectful communication. Communicating effectively has many facets, including:

  • Talking directly with your roommate about your needs and feelings, and learning about what they need and feel
  • Agreeing on and setting expectations for shared space, including cleanliness, noise level, and having friends over
  • Setting boundaries to make it clear what is and is not okay in the roommate relationship (can they eat your food? share your shampoo?)
  • Dealing with conflict by setting up a time to talk to your roommate, using “I” statements and respectful language to express your feelings, focusing on one problem at a time, and being willing to compromise

Find more tips on effective communication here. If you have a larger roommate conflict that you need additional help with, try talking with your RA about it.