For college freshmen, Mental Health Help Should Come Early On

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At fourteen, I began to notice a feeling of constant anxiety. It wasn't only that my emotions weren't lining up quite right with my thoughts; it was difficult for me to navigate my emotions and express them to my family. My parents could see that I was struggling, and did their best to help me make it through my difficult high school years. My high school's faculty never made me feel as though talking to a professional, or even a guidance counselor, was a plausible option. It wasn't until I began regularly seeing a psychologist in college that I could recover from the anxiety and panic that had been holding me back for so long.

My experience -- including how seeking help seemed impossible -- wasn't unique, especially for patients so young. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 50 percent of students who stopped attending college due to mental illness did not access their school's mental health services. As such, it is vital for college school staff to take more than a passing glance at the mental issues that a young adult may be facing, and make them feel comfortable asking for help.

Mental health crises aren't a rarity on college campuses, and recent statistics suggest that it's in college that these difficulties are most likely to arise. "Almost 73 percent of students living with a mental health condition experienced a mental health crisis on campus," reads the Alliance's information page about college mental health, "Yet, 34.2 percent reported that their college did not know about their crisis." This haunting statistic further proves that there are students out there who are struggling with mental illness, but have not gone for proper treatment. And even for students that do seek treatment, it might not be as helpful as hoped: In June 2013, the American Psychological Association found that "19 percent of [university counseling center] directors report the availability of psychiatric services on their campus is inadequate."

A fear of the stigma is often a deciding factor for college students explore treatment options. Legitimate mental disorders are often dismissed by both parents and peers as simple "teenage angst," solved by a few journal entries and a new hobby. A February 2014 article in Newsweek reported multiple instances of colleges being particularly unhelpful to higher education students with mental health problems, so much so that many of the students suggested that their unhelpfulness was deliberate. "Despite that very clearly stated law, dozens of current or recent students at colleges and universities across the country - large and small, private and public - told Newsweek they were punished for seeking help," wrote reporter Katie J.M. Baker. "[They said they were] kicked out of campus housing with nowhere else to go, abruptly forced to withdraw from school and even involuntarily committed to psychiatric wards." Instead, college psychological professionals ought to validate the mental health concerns of students to enable them discuss their feelings openly and without the fear of stigma.

This action can happen in a multitude of ways, capitalizing on the new freshmen or transfer students that aren't yet oriented to their college campuses. School counseling centers should reach out to students entering their first year on campus, and even allow walk in hours during move in. The early years of college are a crucial point in intellectual development, as they are a time of expanding intellectual horizons as well as demolishing social barriers.

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