“I am taking a mental health day” is a phrase we have all heard and most likely have said ourselves. Either way, the use of this phrase is an acknowledgment that mental health is something that must be maintained rather than kept in a static state. Only 17 percent of adults in the United States have optimal mental health, according to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services completed in 1999. That means 83 percent of people are plagued by some emotional, psychological or social issue. Most people may find that hard to believe, and that may be because we mistakenly believe a lack of mental health is synonymous with mental illness. To quote the CDC, “Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
The stressful atmosphere of academia and professional contemplation may not be the easiest place to achieve this desired state of of well-being. Nevertheless, we are all especially aware of the importance of mental health and probably more familiar with it than most. From orientation’s informative presentations to the emails we receive from on-campus organizations (like Hiatt’s last week), it is practically impossible to be ignorant about the issue. As we all know, Brandeis’ social justice inclinations have made this campus a common setting to conversation about almost any issue. Mental health should be no different.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma revolving around mental health. Unlike other health concerns, there is no biological fix such as an antibiotic or vaccine. To this day, the scope of medicine remains hyper-focused on approaching illness physically. Our society is struggling to shift its biomedical paradigm. Others’ feelings about mental health’s importance would not even be a matter of concern if there were a concrete solution to mental health. Yet it creates barriers for people like us to seek out help or the support we need.
Getting help should be as easy as asking for it. Ignoring the fact that just admitting the need for help can be an internal controversy, the external world makes none of this easier. The questioning of mental health’s legitimacy in the healthcare world makes it difficult to attain. Insurance providers require a demand and/or need. Otherwise, support may be unaffordable financially. Furthermore, there are insufficient options. Until those who have gone into counseling careers are encouraged by a stable means of reimbursement (from insurers), they will remain to be geographically few and far between. Fortunately, here at Brandeis, students have 12 free sessions at the Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) before needing to worry about that.
Brandeis University has a host of resources that specialize in helping students like us grappling with our mental health. The most obvious is our PCC, located at Mailman House next to Public Safety. Recently, it has expanded its services and now provides support groups. These groups make help more accessible, providing a safe place and gathering people with similar concerns and issues. Who is better to talk to than someone who understands?
Another resource on campus is Students Talking About Relationships (STAR), a student-run organization. These are students who have been trained to be peer counselors. If scheduling an appointment at the PCC is intimidating, maybe talking to a fellow student is a better option. They have office hours in the Women’s Resource Center on the third floor of the SCC, Sunday-Thursday. If the thing keeping you from your preferred level of mental health has a specific source like academics, study abroad or your living situation, there are a bunch of other resources at Brandeis willing to lend a friendly ear such as Academic Services, Roosevelt Fellows, Office of Study Abroad, DCL, the CAs and many others. Also, look out for workshops and other events on campus meant to focus on our mental health.
The fact of the matter is that a college campus provides an abundance of resources to address the issue of mental health. It is up to you to utilize them or not. Trust, access and stigma are true barriers, but at the end of the day, college may be a better place to be honest with yourself. We are reminded by friends, family and even professors to “take care of ourselves.” In addition to the resources, people here are aware and open-minded. Thus, as we enter the second half of the semester, here is another reminder to take care of yourself and to not forget about the significance of mental health.