Higher Education: Mental Health as Elective
We all know him. He breezed to highest honors in computer science. For fun, he devoured English classics and starred in extracurricular activities.
Teachers fawned over him; the hometown newspaper lauded his academic triumphs. You admired and envied him.
He was destined to change the world. Now, sadly, he is changing your tires at a local car maintenance shop.
Home for the holidays, you retrace your high school haunts. Grabbing a sandwich at your favorite hangout, you spot him. Averting eye contact, he mumbles out a halfhearted greeting. You can hear the fatigue in his voice.
He pulls you aside. “Hey, do you mind if we grab a cup of coffee? It would be good to catch up.”
“Sure,” you stammer. “Let’s go grab a cup.”
After exchanging pleasantries, he sighs loudly and fidgets with his baseball cap. “You are probably wondering what happened,” he sighs.
The sentence lingers. He glances downward before continuing.
“Well, I went to Ivy University. Everything was immaculate. The professors were international leaders in their field. The students were scholars in their own right. It was exhilarating.”
“So, what happened?”
His eyes narrowing, “Well, I had a breakdown. Here in our town, everyone celebrated me for my otherworldly intelligence. But at Ivy, I was just your average smart guy. When I failed my mid-semester exam, my confidence — my identity — was shattered. I couldn’t rebound.”
He continued, “As my grades spiraled downhill, I started self-medicating. I withdrew from friends and acquaintances. By the end of the semester, I was a hermit — venturing outside for food, beer, and cigarettes.”
“Did you talk to anyone? A university counselor? What about a trained clinician at Student Health?”
“That’s the thing. I was clinically depressed; the depression immobilized me. But these topics are taboo at Ivy.”
“I mean, the college adjustment is tough on everyone. There aren’t counseling resources for first-year students struggling to adjust?” you asked with a tone of incredulity.
“There are, but among students, there is a justifiable reluctance to go,” he said with a caustic tone. “If you self-report, the university labels you and monitors any ‘indiscretion’ with their approved treatment plan. Ivy administrators prioritize their well-manicured grounds over student health. We both get stomped on.”
Ivy is symbolic of universities’ disparaging attitude toward mental health. University administrators characterize mental health as a public safety issue. Students at prestigious universities and colleges face sanctions — up to university eviction — for divulging mental health issues. In this stigmatized environment, students suffer silently, compounding their sense of isolation.
Yes, universities are profit-minded enterprises rightfully concerned about violence. The Virginia Tech massacre, where a disgruntled student took 32 innocent lives, is a haunting reminder. But universities, at their fundamental core, are change agents, tasked with examining dominant paradigms within classrooms, research labs, and administrative settings. In the process, universities tilt public opinion on topical issues such as mental health.
While more students seek mental health counseling, universities — and heavy-handed administrators — cling to convenient stereotypes. Research has disproved any connection between mental health and violence. Oddly enough, universities dismiss these findings. University administrators should revisit another entrenched stereotype: the callous academic administrator indifferent to student needs.
Baker, K. (11 November 2014). How Colleges Flunk Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/2014/02/14/how-colleges-flunk-mental-health-245492.html
Loeb, M. (2018). Higher Education: Mental Health as Elective. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/higher-education-mental-health-as-elective/