Ponnada: Not bad to seek help

BY SRI PONNADA | MARCH 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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Recent mass shootings across the nation have generated a lot of concern about mental illnesses and mental-health services. Many Americans are quick to attribute gun violence and violent behavior in general to persons suffering from (serious) mental disorders.

A survey conducted by Feb. 26-March 6 by UI students in the Advanced Reporting and Writing: Polling Literacy and Public Affairs journalism course shows that 42.2 percent of students said they would feel somewhat safe if the university were to improve mental-health care. More than 23 percent of students responded that they would feel very safe.

The pervasive association of mental illness with violence further stigmatizes individuals suffering from mental-health disorders. It may also prevent many of those individuals from seeking the help that they need because they fear being perceived as “crazy” by others as a result of being in therapy.

Who’s typically thought of as someone who needs to see a therapist?

This may come as a shock or perhaps even a disappointment, but the average person actually obtaining counseling is someone who’s just like you.

Last year, the University Counseling Service saw more than 1,700 students.

Director Sam Cochran said that anxiety is the top reason for seeking counseling at the service, followed by depression, relationship problems, and transitional or adjustment-to-university problems.

But the stigma remains.

“Students who still hold stigma about mental-health issues or seeking mental-health series will always find it difficult to seek treatment or make use of services available,” the director wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “We try to work on ways to address this in our outreach programs.”

College can be pretty stressful. There are all these expectations that we’re pushed to fulfill as students and so many new responsibilities. You have to get good grades and be involved in activities while working a job and reviving your now nonexistent social life. Things can get out of control, and possibly be overwhelming.

That’s why I sought out therapy — and I’m not alone.

According to the 2012 National College Health Assessment report, which shows how healthy college students across America are, UI students are struggling with mental health. Twenty-four percent and 17 percent of UI students reported that stress and anxiety, respectively, had negatively affected their academics in the last year, respectively. For 9 percent of students, it was depression.

That comes out to 50 percent of students whose studies are affected by their not-so-good mental health. However, the Counseling Service reports that only 6 to 7 percent of students make use of its services. Additionally, 42 percent of students say they don’t know how accessible mental-health services on campus are.

So why is it that when half of us are struggling with staying healthy, barely any of the students seek the help they need? And why do nearly half of us not even know about the services that are at our disposal?

Students on campus aren’t ignoring their physical health. The Campus Recreation & Wellness Center is always full of people working out, and I constantly hear people saying they want to eat healthily. No one’s making fun of a friend for trying to lose some weight.

The same should go for people seeking therapy. These individuals are brave enough to admit that they could use some help improving their mental health, and they aren’t afraid to ask for it.

Contrary to how the media may portray the average person seeing a therapist, many of us are average students, having the same problems that many other people do.

So why be afraid of someone with a mental illness?

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