The University of Michigan has exceptional academics, athletics, alumni and more, but it is severely lacking in one area: providing mental health education and awareness of resources on campus. The University’s First Year Experience programs are excellent in providing freshmen with information on sexual assault, bystander intervention and the dangers of binge drinking. Yet, there is a dire need for something similar to fill the current void of mental health education and assist students in navigating an oftentimes confusing system.
Too many freshmen enter campus without the knowledge of where to access these resources and support in times of need not only in their first year but also throughout their entire college experience. With a mental health education component in freshman residence hall meetings equipping students with knowledge of both the resources available and how to best utilize them, many issues regarding mental health on campus would be alleviated.
According to the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services website over 57.7 million people suffer from the negative consequences of various mental health disorders and illnesses each year, and a 2002 study showed over 31,000 people act on these negative consequences, ending their lives via suicide. Based on our own experiences and those of our peers, we know many students suffering from these different disorders saw their mental health deteriorate after arriving on campus. More importantly, they were not adequately informed of the resources they had access to on campus to receive help.
We have seen, either through our own experiences or those of our friends, the ways in which mental illness can severely hurt one’s college experience. As the first in her family to attend college, a member of our group, Alicia Vanderpool, had no prior knowledge or preparation for how difficult college life would be. Three years later, she is just now becoming aware of the resources available to help treat her now diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. However, because she has already developed these different mental disorders, it has become much harder to treat and is taking more of the University’s time and resources than it would have if she would’ve been treated much earlier on.
Another member, Hannah Connors, is a Wolverine Support Network leader and frequently refers students to campus resources they either did not know about or have trouble navigating. Throughout her three semesters as a leader, she has noticed the need to better educate students about the help available to them and knows there are thousands of students she has not met who may be struggling similarly.
Only 42 percent of students surveyed are aware of the Wellness Zone on Central Campus, 27 percent are aware of the CAPS embedded model and 17 percent are aware of "the Department of Psychiatry of Outpatient Clinics (including the Depression Center)," according to the Central Student Government Mental Health Taskforce report published last year. There are already enough barriers for students seeking help for their mental health, including general stigma and fear — confusion over resources should not add to the challenge.
To remedy this problem, a mental health education component should be included in all freshman residence hall meetings. It is a small enough setting that students are more likely to actively pay attention and retain information as this is a meeting almost all students already attend. Since 97 percent of first-year students live in University housing, it is one of the best places to relay information.
Implementing programming like this would likely call for the University to hire at least one new full-time staff member since thousands of first-year students live in University Housing and coordinating the mental health education component of so many meetings would be time-intensive. While this presents an upfront cost to the University, a preventative measure like this one will decrease the overall trauma students experience through mental illness and will save the University time and money in the long run.
In order to convince administration, a great number of students and staff need to demonstrate their support. To aid this cause and pressure administration to take action on this important issue, you can sign and share this petition: http://bit.ly/umich123