When you hear the word “mental illness,” a few things may come to mind. You might think of someone who is crazy or even a mental institution. The word “mental illness” has such a horrible stigma attached to it that we often forget that a mental illness can be something less severe such as anxiety, stress, or depression that a highly functioning person can have. The media also doesn’t help. Think of any crime show or movie and I am sure that your number one thief or killer had some sort of mental illness that the show decided to highlight. It is this stigma that has, for so long, prevented people from talking openly about any challenges they may have mentally and emotionally. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even fearful of receiving a label. This stigma has also prevented the spreading of awareness about the severity of such disorders and therefore also prevents the spread of knowledge of what to do when faced with such issues.
Just this past January, University of Pennsylvania student Madison Holleran committed suicide because of anxiety due to too much stress from an overload of school work. In the past years, the rate of suicidal college students has been climbing and experts point to many different things. Victor Schwartz, a psychiatrist and medical director for a New York-based suicide prevention group aimed at college students, says “it’s more often personal- and family-relationship disruption” and that often “alcohol and other substances are involved.” Although families and friends of Madison Holleran do not cite any relationship trouble and point mainly to the stress of school, there is no doubt that relationships as well as drugs are many triggers for suicidal teenagers and young adults. Age is also another important factor to consider when studying these deaths. Dr. Schwartz also added that college age is when a lot of mental illnesses such as depression begin to rise and that about 90% of suicide victims have a psychiatric condition.
But it’s not like there is no one to help these students. Just about every campus has counselors and therapists that are available to the students who attend the school. Even Madison Holleran, at the time, was seeing a therapist outside of UPenn. No one may ever know the specifics about Madison Holleran’s suicide, or anyone else’s suicide for that matter, but there is definitely more that we as a country could do to prevent suicides and the stigma that is attached to any sort of mental or emotional disorder. For one, we can start spreading awareness in our schools and teaching children that feelings of high stress and anxiety can be considered illnesses and raise a cause for concern. More importantly, these illnesses are common and as harmful as cancer or any other sort of chronic illness. Exposure at a young age will hopefully lessen the stigma as time goes on and encourage more people to seek help when needed. If children can learn from a young age that there is nothing evil or shameful about mental illness there is a possibility that the younger generations will be more open to the diagnosis of mental illnesses in the future. Not only should we teach the younger generations about mental disorders but also about suicide, how to prevent it, and the warning signs. Finally, I believe that there should be more therapists and counselors available at colleges and universities so that there is never a wait or a delay if someone is really in need.
– Kaitlyn Powell