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