Working to end the social stigma on seeking help

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Phil Brown
Opinion Editor

A disease that caused 41,000 deaths in the United States in 2012, an average of 113 each day, out of over 494,000 total emergency room visits brought on by the malady.

This is the spectre of depression and suicide in America. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for every one of those 41,000 deaths, there were over 229 people who considered taking their own lives.

The U.S. faces a substantial public health issue in depression treatment and suicide prevention. There is a tremendous loss in human terms, of course, but the CDC estimates that suicide causes an additional $51 billion in medical costs and lost wages a year.

National Suicide Awareness Week came and went last week, and part of the awareness the event advocates is knowing more about the extent of mental illness, what resources are available and what is being done to help those suffering. Nebraska had a suicide rate of 10.78 deaths per 100,000 citizens from 2000 to 2013. This is not far below the Midwest’s rate of 11.49 over the same period. But from 2010 to 2013, Nebraska’s suicide rate rose to 11.34. And in that period, the rate among the 20-24 age group is higher still at 12.73.

This trend of Nebraskan youth being more at risk is highlighted in a recent study conducted by Mental Health America, who ranked the 50 states in terms of lowest prevalence of mental illness and highest rates of access to care. While Nebraska turned in a respectable ranking for adults, at number 10, the outlook for youth was poorer, at 15.

On a college campus, the effect of youth risk is compounded by the added stresses of schoolwork and social expectations, making it particularly important that campuses like University of Nebraska at Omaha provide resources and help to students facing a crisis. UNO provides mental health services to its students in two important ways.

The Counseling Center, which can be found in the HPER building, offers short-term counseling, and is geared towards putting students on the right path to better health. Counseling appointments at the Center are free for students, making the barrier to help very low. The University is also home to the Community Counseling Clinic, which is oriented more towards longer-term counseling, and, while there is a fee for services, can be more useful to students facing long-term problems.

One of the biggest problems students on college campuses face is not a lack of available care, however. Stigma, the shame that seems to come with accepting help for mental health issues, seems to be one of the biggest obstacles for youth struggling with a mental issue like depression or anxiety.

In the Surgeon General’s 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, reducing stigma was one of the highest priorities. “Reduced prejudice about mental disorders and suicide makes it more likely that the person will let others know about symptoms and seek help,” the report read.

Here at UNO, efforts have been made and are being made to reduce that stigma and offer students access to the care that they need. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recently founded a chapter on campus, a chapter that is dedicating itself to reducing the stigma of mental illness and promoting further education and awareness on the subject, and to promote the care offered by the university.

The chapter’s advisor, Cheryl Campbell, is a licensed mental health practitioner, and is able to provide help to club members even without going through the Counseling Center or Clinic first. The logistical obstacles to mental health care on campus are very low.

The only significant barrier for a UNO student to receive help for their struggles is the stigma and culture on campus.

If someone you know is suffering from mental illness, please make sure they know about the professionals on campus who can help, either through the Counseling Center or Clinic, or the NAMI campus chapter.

COURTESY OF LIVEWELLNEBRASKA
COURTESY OF LIVEWELLNEBRASKA

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