Battling Mental Health Issues on College Campuses
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With a recent rise in the media regarding recognition and treatment of mental illnesses, it is time to direct our attention to a demographic at serious risk of issues like depression and anxiety. According to a 2014 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in every 3 college students reported experiencing extended bouts of depression and 1 in 4 reported experiencing suicidal thoughts. While most colleges provide free, on-campus counseling services for students struggling with mental illness, not all colleges draw enough attention to or provide alternative forms of confidential and effective treatment. Things like regular therapy, suicide or depression hotlines, and access to comfort pets have been proven to provide significant, individual assistance to students in need of help.

St. Mary's College of Maryland, a small, public, liberal arts honors college in southern Maryland prides itself on the emphasis they place on assisting students struggling with mental illness. Students have access to programs such as individual or group therapy, psychiatric evaluation, advocacy services, and workshops. A group of students on campus called the Peer Health Educators also provide assistance on the peer level through campus events and activities. A new program introduced just a few years ago through the Office of Residence Life allows students with diagnosed mental health problems to bring a pet on campus. These "comfort pets" work like therapy dogs, providing students with a personal responsibility and routine, as well as giving access to a fuzzy friend at the end of the day. With all of the programs that St. Mary's offers, this is unfortunately not the case with several other colleges and universities throughout the country.

Due to things like budget issues and mental health stigmas, not all college students are able to receive the help they need. Understaffed mental health departments on college campuses lead to an inability to provide enough adequate service for students on a regular basis. Most mental health crises occur during the late hours of the night, and if a college is unable to provide a 24-hour hotline or crisis center, a student does not have the buffer they need if they reach for help. A heavy stigma on mental health issues also leads students to be embarrassed or ashamed of their thoughts. By breaking down the stigma of struggles like depression and anxiety, students would be more willing to seek help. Writing letters to college administration and providing more education on mental health would give students the access to the help they need.

College is supposed to be a time of growth and independence, but this growth and newfound responsibility can lead to psychological issues in students. While there are national and state-wide resources, it is important to bring more attention to college-level resources.

For students struggling with suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides a free 24-hour service at 1-800-273-8255.

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