Mental health stigmas interfere with student welfare

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Stigmas surrounding mental health issues can prevent students from seeking out help. (Photo Illustration by Patrick Do / Daily Titan)
Stigmas surrounding mental health issues can prevent students from seeking out help. Twenty-one percent of CSUF students have experienced some sort of anxiety disorder, according to a study conducted by the Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Mental Health. 

(Photo Illustration by Patrick Do / Daily Titan)

Overwhelming anxiety can happen at any time. For Patrick Getz, a Cal State Fullerton junior, it happened during class.

“I don’t know why at one moment it all came down, but it did,” Getz said.

He compared the experience to feeling “the weight of the world” on his shoulders, as a sudden culmination of poor sleep and dietary habits came to a head.

“I had to get up and walk around. I left class and I didn’t show up to class for a little while,” he said. “It was hard to breathe and it was hard to focus. It was kind of like an out-of-body experience where I just didn’t know what was going on.”

Getz started experiencing anxiety after graduating high school when he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life moving forward.

Twenty percent of college students experience some sort of anxiety disorder, according to a study conducted from 2014-2015 by The Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Mental Health. At CSUF, 21 percent of students experienced some sort of anxiety disorder, according to the same study.

The study also found that 61 percent of CSUF students surveyed agreed that mental or emotional difficulties had hurt their academic performance for at least one day in the four weeks preceding their survey.

Anxiety is a reaction which alerts a person to take action in the face of a situation perceived as threatening or dangerous, according to a brochure published by the University of Illinois. While anxiety may be useful to prompt a student to act properly, it can also be detrimental if it becomes overwhelming and leads to counterproductivity, according to a brochure published by the University of Illinois.

During the 2015 fall semester, 1,303 students were treated through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez, Psy.D., director of CAPS at CSUF’s Student Health and Counseling Center, said anxiety is a mental health condition that can be treated quickly, but students often find it difficult to reach out for help because of the stigma often associated with mental health issues.

The Healthy Minds Network study found that 54 percent of CSUF students who participated in the survey believed that most people would think less of a person who received mental health treatment. 11 percent said that they personally would think less of a person who received mental health treatment.

“We’re constantly trying to break down barriers so that people who have mental health issues can go and seek out the resources that they need that are available,” said Laura Luna, Ph.D., CSUF’s learning disability and mental health specialist.

Luna said that people feel apprehensive about coming forward, not wishing to be labeled as an individual who has “something wrong with them.”

“I didn’t ever see me going through anything like that. (For) people who went to get counseling, I was like, ‘Something’s just not right in their heads or something,’ but it can happen to anybody,” Getz said.

Mental health stigmas have existed for years, even with regard to its study. Dr. David M. Davis, a psychiatrist, recalls his father’s reaction when he became a psychiatrist 37 years ago.

“He didn’t consider a psychiatrist to be a ‘real’ doctor. ‘Real’ doctors were internists and orthopedists and pediatricians,” Davis said.

Getz experienced the stigma surrounding mental health conditions before even learning about his anxiety.

“I did care about (the stigma) because I thought I was going crazy. I couldn’t control this feeling I had in my head, of all this anxiety and overwhelming stuff that was going on.”

Lack of education can also be a barrier keeping students from seeking help.

“(Students) don’t even understand what is going on, that they don’t even know where to go,” Gutierrez-Lopez said.

College students face numerous pressures, ranging from school to economics to family dynamics, Davis said. Davis also said that the distractions students encounter, such as illegal drugs and sexual issues, often add to the anxiety of college. Davis said he currently treats about 10 college students at his practice in Newport Beach.

“For me, anxiety in general kind of boils down to fears and worries. Fears and worries to the point where you can’t function,” Luna said.

Simple tasks such as raising one’s hand during class can trigger anxiety, and when it does, it can affect the entire body.

“When the anxiety struck I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do any of those things,” Getz said.

Getz said he had counseling at his church, Compass Bible Church. He also finds prayer and meditation helpful in dealing with anxiety.

At CSUF, there are many services available for students struggling with anxiety or students who want to learn more about it.

The Student Wellness Center, which includes Student Health Services, CAPS, Health Education and Promotion and Disability Support Services, can be helpful in addressing and managing anxiety.

CAPS currently employs 17 full-time counselors, one part-time counselor and three full-time psychology interns. The center also has a psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse practitioner available to help students deal with anxiety.

In addition, a chapter of Active Minds has recently been on the rise at CSUF.

Active Minds is a group of social activists who advocate for mental health. Active Minds President Edwardo Lopez holds meetings every Friday, where students can ask questions and learn more about mental health. There are currently about 10 to 15 consistent members.

“Not everyone has mental illness, but everyone has mental health,” Lopez, a psychology major, said. “We are not professional therapists, so we also don’t want it to turn into group therapy, so we are very careful about how we are leading the conversation.”

The club hosts events and workshops to educate and help students get past the stigma that exists with mental health.

“There’s no harm in seeking out help, so try out the services or even learn a little bit more about the services provided,” Lopez said.

Lopez is holding a test anxiety workshop Friday, March 18 in TSU Gabrielino.

CAPS is currently holding workshops throughout campus every week for the rest of the spring semester, addressing “Mood Management,” “Anxiety/Worry Thought Management” and “Stress Management.”

2 commentsOn Mental health stigmas interfere with student welfare

  • —-Mental health stigmas interfere with student welfare

    Your error is common: Tolerating stigmas interferes with student welfare. Teaching stigmas interferes with student welfare. Passively accepting stigmas interferes with student welfare.

    There are basically two ways to teach a stigma (any prejudice, for that matter): aggressively or passively.

    By far the more prevalent is passively. The most common of those passive methods is by taking no personal responsibility for one’s words in repeating it.

    The second most common passive method is to remain silent when it is repeated.

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor

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