This is truly an excellent question–it’s the crutch of the problem. Mentality is all about the patterns of the way people think, feel and behave. Those thoughts and feelings are what cause stress. It goes beyond that for those with mental illness. People who suffer form mental illness aren’t just in a sad mood. Mental illness, as experienced by students, affects their functioning in the classroom in lots of ways, from how they interact with others, focus on their learning, their level of mood, etc. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes when they are diagnosed and are on medications, those medications can have side effects, too.
What steps has OU taken to create safe learning environments for students affected by mental illness? What steps can they take that they have not yet?
Not long ago, a student group called OUr Mental Health developed around advocating for mental illness. That sort of student-led advocacy group is crucial. A group effort to advocate for mental health awareness is crucial because students know what’s happening in their classrooms. They can communicate what their needs are. The Disability Resource Center (DRC) does a great job. Students who are really struggling with mental health issues need to go to the DRC and get registered to work with them. They can really help students get the accommodations they need.
I do think one thing that would be helpful would be for the university to think about educating faculty more about working with students in class who do have mental illnesses.”
However, that’s something that demands a lot of time, and there’s only so much you can do. The DRC is also available to faculty who need instructional strategies for working with students afflicted by mental health. They should also refer those students to the DRC. That interdepartmental support can be helpful to many students who need a variety of learning styles, not just lecturing, to succeed.
When your child or friend is at university, stay in contact with them. Let them know you’re there as part of their support system. Advocate for them when talking to others or stepping in with the university, but also let them gain independence. If you live far away from them, help them make connections and identify support in the surrounding area. Remind them of their coping strategies, help them think through difficulties, and remind them that they’ve struggled before and successfully emerged on the other end. Remind them that a mental illness diagnosis does not define them. They are a strong person with many other attributes and identities other than an illness.
What’s something you’d like to inform people about mental illness?
One crucial thing people forget is that these kids who struggle with mental illness–it isn’t their choice. They’re not choosing to have trouble paying attention or things like that. I believe people on campus need to have a better understanding of and reflect on the larger stigma attached to a mental health-related diagnosis. What we deal with on campus is a microcosm of a larger issue.
Do you have any advice for students who are reading this issue and are currently struggling with a mental illness?
My first advice for students is that you need to get help; you need to go to Goddard or us [the Counseling Psychology Clinic] or the DRC. Reach out, although it’s very difficult to do if you’re in the throes of certain types of mental illness. It’s difficult to ask for help when you feel so isolated, but the times you least want to do it are the times when you have to do it. Hold that part of you that doesn’t want to intact and do it anyhow. If you need to, ask someone you trust for help.
The most important thing is to reach out to somebody. If you feel like you don’t have anybody like that, pick someone that seems like a good candidate. There are many 1-800 lines that you can call for help, too. The most important thing is to talk to someone, anyone.
[Click here for a list of hotlines, OU resources, and more info on accessing these resources.]