Our generation is experiencing a record-breaking mental health epidemic. 48.2 percent of college students experience anxiety and 34.5 percent experience depression, according to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. Even more concerning is the continued rise in student suicides, which have increased over 28 percent since 1999, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. These numbers reveal the student health crisis on college campuses.
As these rates of anxiety, depression and suicide continue to rise on college campuses, institutional support for mental health consistently fails to meet the needs of struggling students. Three of the important steps students can take to combat mental illness on campus are peer intervention, prioritizing downtime and being more open and honest about mental health. While there’s no doubt that college campuses can easily become stressful environments, students can and should support each other to ease the growing struggles among their peers.
Many commentators and pundits point to technology, social media and helicopter parenting as causes of the rise in mental illness. I would argue all three of these common explanations are only factors of one problematic issue in students’ daily lives: a lack of downtime. Living in dorms and constantly rushing from class to extracurricular to club meeting leaves us with virtually no time free from work or distractions. We also have very little time alone to de-stress. With 90 percent of students living on campus –– including many in double or triple rooms –– these stressful conditions are a major part of life at Occidental. Though they are only a facet of the constant distractions we face every day, our phones and social media also play a significant role in keeping us busy; they have barraged us with stimulation for our entire adolescence. As a result, many people our age struggle to let themselves be alone, which is essential to our mental health and relaxation.
As anyone who has struggled with mental health can tell you, improvement cannot come completely from within yourself. This is why peer intervention is extremely important in preventing and combating mental illness. Consistently rising trends in mental illness show that college therapists and counselors have not been effective enough to create meaningful change, and Emmons is no exception. Since Emmons only offers short-term counseling, students don’t have access to regular and enduring counseling without leaving campus. There’s also the fundamental issue of scheduling: since Emmons is only open to walk-in counseling 3–4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, resources are often unavailable when students need them.
Of course, therapy is an essential step toward treating mental illness, and struggling students should always seek counseling when necessary. But when we can’t rely fully on institutional support, we also need to be able to rely on each other. The one positive spin to take away from increasing diagnoses of mental health disorders is that the stigma of seeking help is disappearing. Students are more willing than ever to pursue the help they need, and when roughly half of all students are diagnosed with mental health disorders, it’s clear we could all use the help. In order to see a change in these mental illness statistics, we need to change our behavior and support each other.
One obstacle to peer support is that many students feel unable to provide help for others. It can be extremely overwhelming for a friend or classmate to approach you with a serious request for help. This is where Oxy’s health services can play a role. Nearly all of Emmons’ current mental health support is directed toward students who are struggling themselves. If Emmons could reach out to provide students with the tools and methods to help others, we could begin to create a stronger and healthier community that can find support internally. Rather than seeing Emmons as our only option, students need the ability to seek additional forms of help from student-led organizations, such as Active Minds, and their peers.
The countless and constant tragedies taking place at campuses across the nation call for a change in how we as students view our mental health. Last month, two Claremont McKenna College students died in consecutive weeks; one death was confirmed to be a suicide, though the cause of the second is currently unreleased. Mental illness is a constant battle for many students and recognizing that is the first step in helping each other. Before anything else, students need to prioritize themselves and make time to care for their mental health. Most importantly, we need to make sure our friends and classmates feel comfortable coming to us when they need help. An ongoing and open dialogue about mental health is the first step in preventing tragedy.
Charlie Finnerty is an undeclared first year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.