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Change our state of mind about mental health

| Thursday, October 1, 2015

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, it makes sense for students to get their free flu shots next week, right? During a stressful time in the semester, with the advent of seemingly endless exams, papers and projects, it seems obvious that the average student might become especially susceptible to physical ailments and illnesses. So it seems like a foregone conclusion that, in order to maintain physical well-being, students would seek out the proper help and resources.

But what if instead of talking about just physical illnesses, like the flu, we talked about mental illnesses, like depression or anxiety disorders? It seems as if students still hesitate to attend to their mental health with the same initiative and matter-of-factness as they do their physical health.

Next week is Irish State of Mind Week, which is dedicated to raising awareness about mental illness. Though there does seem to be a changing sentiment, both on campus and around the nation, in the perception of mental illness, there is still an undeniable wariness and sense of uneasiness when discussing the topic, whether it be one’s own mental illness or someone else’s.

Mental illness is present in various forms and exists across a wide spectrum with varying degrees of severity. While discussing this editorial, we as a board realized we have each been affected by mental illness, whether we were reminded of one of our loved ones, or if it was something we quietly acknowledged ourselves.

Yet somehow the different ways we as a society and community view physical and mental illness seem to still differ: one with an urgency to visit a trained health professional to treat such an illness, the other with apprehension and hesitation.

Physical diseases and mental health issues are, at their very cores, illnesses. Similar to how a diabetic may need to take medication to supplement their lack of insulin, someone with a major depressive disorder may need to take medication to address abnormally high concentrations of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, or various forms of neurological receptors.

What it boils down to is that either form of illness is not always within our control, and thus we need to be confident in attending to it and getting the help we need.

People who suffer from various forms of mental illness may shy away from seeking help. Sometimes, the stigma surrounding mental illness proves to be too intimidating to seek out the various resources we have on campus to maintain our mental well-being. At other times, we may shunt our mental health issues aside and aimlessly tell ourselves to “suck it up.” But mental illness, as is the case with physical illness, left unattended can only make matters worse and affect other facets of our lives.

It is tough — perhaps even unimaginably so — for someone living with a mental illness to accept it and talk to the appropriate professionals or to even open up to loved ones. Perhaps it is easier for those suffering to write off resources such as the University Counseling Center as not being “right” for them. Those talks might be awkward, and the pursuit for the right professional resources might be uncomfortable, but they will be worth it because our mental well-being affects every other aspect of our lives.

Irish State of Mind Week has been, and will continue to be, a powerful opportunity for the University as a whole to raise awareness about the reality of mental health and to significantly improve the well-being of students. In high-pressure environments like those the University and campuses nationwide naturally develop, it is essential students take care of themselves, both physically and mentally, in order to perform and succeed throughout their educational careers.

While the free T-shirts to commemorate the week are nice, there is so much more to gain: the prospect of living happily and healthily.

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