Disclaimer: All information, data and material contained, presented, or provided on this post is written from my first hand experiences of mental illness from loved ones. It is not to be construed or intended as providing medical or legal advice. Decisions you make about your family’s healthcare are important and should be made in consultation with a competent medical professional. I’m not a physician and do not claim to be.
Why can’t we regard depression and mental illness with the same weight? Why don’t mental illness get the same treatment as physical illness? It all boils down to changes in cultural attitude. A more understanding and less judgmental society won’t make mental illness go away, but it can help with treatment plans.
The judgment, the labels, and the negative attitudes are the reasons why some family and friends I personally know will not acknowledge that they have an issue, and will not seek help.
I went to a family gathering with friends (I will call it that). One of my relatives openly told me that she had mental issues in her younger years after seeing a mutual relative have a “moment” in the middle of our family gathering. It caught the whole family completely off guard. It was embarrassing, because a family friend went to the person to say hello, and she went off for no reason! After the outburst, I was around a table, and people just started opening up about their struggles. We never got this deep ever. They noticed something was going on with this person because they saw themselves in this person. They told me they remember acting like that before they had a nervous breakdown. My relative said do you know we have plenty of mental issues in this family, right? No one talks about it because there’s a stigma and no one wants to be seen as crazy. She told me the only way this person will get better is if she seeks help. I said “The issue is, no one on that side of the family wants to acknowledge that she needs help, so what do you do?
I was given the advice to keep my eyes on the situation.
The family friend said, “Whatever you do, don’t give up on this person.” Someone needs to step up and maybe call either 911 or the right medical personnel for that person if they need to. Maybe that person should be you.”
Depression is real despite negative cultural attitudes
Unfortunately, depression is interpreted as a weakness to some. What if “useful” or “logical” advice about mental illness were given about physical problems? You wouldn’t tell someone with breast cancer that it’s all in their head right?
Even on campuses, the mental health crisis continues to grow.
According to Newsweek (and the article Colleges Flunk Mental Health), “Colleges are very accustomed to accommodating learning and physical disabilities, but they don’t understand simple ways of accommodating mental health disabilities,” says Professor Peter Lake, an expert on higher education law and policy who sees widespread fear and reluctance across the board to “promote diversity that encompasses mental disabilities and mood disorders.
Colleges and universities have made great leaps in helping students with mental health issues. However, colleges could still use direction. While student health centers are not equipped to handle cancer (nor are we expecting them to), they are being asked to support a student without retribution. For example, students shouldn’t be kicked off campus or student housing for seeking help or threatened to withdraw from school and forced to enter psych wards. Counselors shouldn’t threaten students with removing them from campuses when they reveal how they feel. There are plenty of stories of students being forced off campus for telling their truth. We have to get the whole college community tuned into the idea that we live in an ambiguous world and the people around us are going to face personal setbacks and challenges. By kicking students off campus with mental health issues, institutions run the risk of violating federal discrimination laws.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal disability laws prohibit discrimination against students whose psychiatric disabilities “substantially limit a major life activity” and mandates that colleges and universities provide them with “reasonable accommodations” — such as extended deadlines and additional testing options — provided they can meet nondiscriminatory academic and behavior standards and provided their disability does not pose a acute risk of substantial harm that cannot be mitigated by those reasonable accommodations.
But if a school is intent on getting rid of a student, being fair isn’t a priority. By getting rid of a student, the problem is no longer their problem. Hey, it’s the easy way out, right?
Institutions will claim to face an uphill battle when dealing with mentally ill students. It’s a double edged sword: Schools aren’t only responsible for students with mental health issues, they also have to make sure that the other students’ safety is #1 at the same time.
I noticed while in school, mental illness was not taken seriously. In grade school, several kids were affected by abusive situations and traumatic experiences, and no help was really offered by the school. The attitude as a young kid was to “toughen up” and “eventually it will get better.”
Higher up in high school and beyond, as usual, the attitude was “get over it” and “it’s in your head.” For one college aged friend, I will admit that she said CAPS worked really well (but you had to pay after 6 sessions). But for the most part for other friends, it didn’t help at all. So for 4/5 of my friends, it didn’t work too well.
“Schools should encourage students to seek treatment. But a lot of policies I see involve excessive use of discipline and involuntary leaves of absence, and they discourage students from asking for the help they need,” Karen Bower private attorney
According to Newsweek, current and former students at schools across the country who’ve had positive experiences with their university’s mental health services all had one thing in common: They never felt punished.
Stigma reduction efforts: Changes in cultural attitudes starts with individuals. There’s still a basic fear and misunderstanding of mental illness. Instead of removing students from campus as a first option, if the student isn’t an direct threat to themselves or other students, they should not be thrown off campus. Schools don’t accomplish anything but discrimination when immediately kicking someone off campus. Conversations should make sure they are welcomed. Administrators shouldn’t brush off mental health issues either as someone else’s problems. But Alesha, they might say. What if it’s clear that universities need to force a student to leave for the safety of others? What if they are an acute threat? What if they are too ill to be on campus?
If the student needs more help than you can give, recommend that they take time off and leave to get treatment with their family present. Make it their decision, and not the school’s. (Students/Parents, is it really a case where we are expecting more than the college can give? In some cases, maybe.)
It’s in a school’s best financial interests to invest in mental health services and education. Re-prioritize funds and resources to support counseling centers and disability services should happen along with access to 24/7 counseling and accommodations.
Make a leave of absence accessible for students without any punishment.
They should be able to be in touch with their on campus counselors if they took time off school. (And if they take time off school, tuition should be reimbursed)
If they choose to stay in school? Professors should be required to accommodate students with extended test times and deadlines. Accommodations should also include lower course loads.
Students should be allowed to drop courses and withdraw at any point in the semester.
Promote your mental health resources and don’t deny students’ access to them.
According to Health Affairs and Huff Post, depression and mental illnesses in general does not receive the same level of health care like a physical ailment (such as high blood pressure, heart issues, lung issues, etc). Policies should be put into place that puts mental illness and physical illness at the same level. Doctors should deconstruct their own bias against mental illness and depression.
Individually, people can help start by changing their attitudes towards mental illness. If you happen to run into someone with mental illness? Instead of judging, show a little compassion and empathy.
My friend and fellow recording label mate says he will tell people that he has a mental illness, like the same way you would tell someone you have cancer. In a conversation, he told me he can start with change himself by not being afraid to acknowledge he has an mental illness.
A version of this appears in the Huffington Post.
If you or know someone that needs help, call 1–800–273–8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Hello! I’m Alesha! I’m a musician, actress, entrepreneur and writer and recent hospital patient (I still can’t believe that is real).Follow on Twitter. Let me know what you want me to write! Click here! I’m writing for Thrive Global, who’s mission is to change the way we work and live. As stated by Arianna Huffington, for far too long, we have been operating under a collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success. This could be less true. All the latest science is conclusive that, in fact, not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance, but performance is actually improved when we prioritize our health and well-being. It’s time to move from knowing what to do to actually doing it. With Thrive Global leading the way, I’m confident that we can have a mindset change on work-life balance. If you like what I’m writing, give me a heart and share! 🙂
Originally published at medium.com