Did you know that, according to To Write Love on Her Arms, two-thirds of those suffering from depression never seek treatment? The inability to access resources, the lack of awareness, and the stigma are three key factors that keep those experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems from getting help. Luckily, we can address all three of these factors as a student body to create an environment at Columbia where students do not feel ashamed or isolated, but rather feel safe and secure enough to reach out for support. While we might not have the power to change the way that mental health is viewed in our country, we can make a difference here.
With the wealth of free mental health resources on campus, Columbia students always have access to help. In addition to having a main office with free counseling, Counseling and Psychological Services hosts walk-in hours every day on campus. Nightline offers peer counseling at night. The Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center provides peer counseling and support for survivors and co-survivors of sexual and gender-based offenses. Alice! imparts information about how to eat healthier, motivate yourself to exercise, and get a better night’s rest. Online, Go Ask Alice! provides a hub where students at Columbia (and the general public) can submit questions about anything health-related and have it answered by the staff at Alice!. Alice!, of course, also runs a campus favorite that offers free massages, Stressbusters.
Yet these free resources are often underutilized due to the second factor that negatively affects those struggling with mental health: lack of awareness. The lack of advertisement keeps the resources from reaching as many students as possible. For instance, CPS hosts small support groups on topics like mindfulness and meditation, stress, body image, and alcoholic parents. These groups have the potential to give students a greater sense of community and understanding on campus, but few students know that they exist.
Even though these organizations make an effort to reach the student body with fliers, it often is not enough. So many student groups put up fliers that these resource fliers are quickly and easily covered up. The fliers also fail to communicate all that those resources have to offer.
Moreover, because of stigma, students are often afraid to investigate these mental health resources. To help relieve the stigma of mental health and illness, we need to educate ourselves about mental disorders—what they are and how they can be treated. While it is probably the hardest to combat, stigma is the largest and most serious factor preventing people from seeking help. The Center for Disease Control reported that “only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.”
Obviously, this is unacceptable. Two nights ago at the fireside chat, a student asked President Bollinger about the role the administration should play in mental health and mental wellness. Clearly, mental health and wellness is on the minds of many students, and while there has been some movement to increase general wellness on campus, there is a lack of focus on mental illness.
To mitigate these circumstances, the Columbia Neuroscience Society is partnering with a variety of organizations on campus to host a Mental Health Awareness Week this March. The group is partnering with CPS, Alice!, Nightline, Well Woman, Furman, the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center, and several Columbia student groups including the Student Health Advisory Committee, CU-AMSA, Active Minds, Barnard Psychology Club, ROOTed, Scientists and Engineers for a Better Society, the SPEARS the Musical cast, the Artist Society, Columbia Classical Performers, and more. We are coming together as a community to start making changes: to bring students closer to campus resources, create awareness, stimulate discourse about mental health on campus, and help remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness. We hope to enlighten students and give them hope. Students should know that they are not alone. There are resources and support available both at Columbia and outside the Columbia community.
Jessica Greenberg is a Columbia College senior majoring in biology and Hispanic studies. Elizabeth Munroe is a Columbia College senior majoring in biology. They are the co-presidents of the Columbia Neuroscience Society.