College is a wonderful experience that brings adventure, joy and excitement. But it’s also a huge transition into adulthood that can bring uncertainty, exhaustion and fear. Students are met with change left and right, and that can result in some difficult emotions. The stresses of college can exacerbate and magnify the struggles of those with previous mental health problems as well as bring out mental health issues in students who have never dealt with them before.
Nonetheless, talking about mental health is stigmatized in a way other health issues aren’t. Students are told what to do and where to go if they break their ankle, get pink eye or contract the flu. It’s expected that a student will get a cold and need to go to the health clinic. They are prepared to get physically ill and have all the resources to get better. But students aren’t told that they might experience waves of depression or a panic attack. They aren’t told that experiencing insomnia or feeling emotionally exhausted is a very common experience in college.
This lack of dialogue regarding mental health is detrimental to students’ well being. The stigma around mental health struggles is one of the biggest factors that prevents people from getting help. In reality, if a student doesn’t struggle with mental health issues, they at least know someone who does.
Research supports this. A 2011 study found that 66% of all college students report exposure to trauma and 9% have post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2012 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that about 41% of college students have anxiety and about 36% experience depression. The association also reported that 21% of students experience severe mental health concerns and another 40% have mild mental health concerns.
Over the past year, we have seen how UO prepares for potential widespread physical illness. The UO took preventative steps, mandated mask-wearing, set up testing centers, made treatment widely available and communicated about COVID-19 constantly with the student body. If a student contracted COVID-19, they were never supposed to bear the burden in solitude and silence. The same thing needs to happen with mental health struggles.
Get Explicit is a great program that helps prepare students for healthy relationships and normalize talking about consent. It helps students to become comfortable talking about boundaries and educates new students on the facts surrounding sexual assault. A plethora of resources are discussed and shared. That’s exactly what UO needs to do with mental health.
First-year and transfer students should be given a mandatory mental health talk as part of their orientation. Students should be made aware of the mood swings and struggles that can come with college and normalize the array of emotions that students will likely feel. There should be an entire discussion about the resources that are available for when strong emotions arise. Knowing there is support when you are struggling is a huge part of recovery.
It’s vital that UO arms its students with resources to help themselves and their friends so they can have the healthiest and happiest college career possible.