By: Anita Cheng
My interest in the mental healthcare area of public health and medicine was first sparked when I wrote my semester paper for Contemporary Issues in Global Health on the state of mental healthcare for refugee children. Although this article was written two years ago in the wake of the Northern Illinois University shooting, the core issue persists today. According to the study cited, one in five young adults (age 19-25) battle personality disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, or other psychological issues. If serious and untreated, these mental diseases can catapult a suffering individual to engage in violent behavior, as exhibited by the most recent Arizona shooting. An extremely concerning fact that was raised in the article was that less than a quarter of these young adults seek treatment.
As university students, all of us can personally testify the stresses of college life – balancing classes, extracurricular activities, relationships, jobs, etc. According to psychologists, this juggling act can sometimes cause students to develop psychological disorders. So why don’t the seventy-five percent of students seek help when most, if not all, college campuses offer counseling services like the one in the lobby of Marchetti East? The most common reason? Stigma. How would it feel to bump into an acquaintance while you are on the way to see a psychiatric counselor? Would you want him or her to know that you have “issues”? What if he or she tells all your other friends? These questions that run through a student’s mind deters him or her from seeking help. I have two close friends who have battled depression. Being a witness to their struggle to even admit that they have a problem showed me the complexity of mental healthcare from the perspective of a patient. In addition, there are significant problems on the side of health policy. While attempting to seek help for a friend through SLU Health and Counseling, I was told that because my friend lived off campus, counselors could not pay her a visit due to protocol, unless my friend approached them willingly for help. Although I understood that they must follow rules, I could not help but feel frustrated, helpless, and afraid.
Through this experience in conjunction to what I have seen on the news, questions such as “how do we define the role of schools in the matter of caring for their students’ mental health?” and “how do we eliminate stigma and create a more comfortable environment for students to seek psychiatric help?” are raised in my mind. On a larger scale, knowing that mental healthcare in this country alone is minimal, how do we convince the government to increase funding for this area of healthcare when it is not a “visible” problem until it is too late? Why hasn’t the door to this conversation been opened wider after each subsequent tragedy caused by mentally ill individuals? This becomes a matter of justice because our neglect of reaching out to these vulnerable individuals and providing them with proper treatment has seen catastrophic repercussions that not only affect themselves but also people around them. On a global scale, the issue becomes more critical for countries that do not even have an adequate physical healthcare system established. For example, in 2010, a man with an untreated psychiatric disorder in eastern China embarked on a stabbing rampage at an elementary school, killing eight children and wounding many others. If the country that spends the most on healthcare in the world is facing mental healthcare problems itself, how do we solve the same issue in countries that spend a much smaller fraction?