Tackling Mental Illness Stigma at the College Level
I've written about stigma before, so you know that it disturbs me. All too often, people experiencing mental health challenges resist seeking help because they fear being labeled, looked down upon, and even ostracized by their family, friends, and community.
This is no less true on college campuses than it is in general society. In fact, mental illness stigma might be worse in college settings because of the increased peer pressure that exists in these environments. Particularly among young college students not long out of high school, the desire to fit in and to be seen as acceptable can prevent students from doing things that are good for themselves.
That's why I was so happy to see that my alma mater, Indiana University - Bloomington (IUB), has partnered with the Bring Change 2 Mind Foundation to create the College Toolbox Project in an effort to reduce mental illness stigma on IUB's campus.
The Bring Change 2 Mind Foundation was created by actress Glenn Close to help reduce stigma in our society through public education and supportive programs. The organization's partnership with IUB has brought together students, researchers, and administrators to create outreach efforts across the campus.
The goal of the College Toolbox Project is to encourage students with mental illness to reach out to get the help they need. Research - some by IUB Distinguished Professor and Chancellor's Professor Bernice Pescosolido - indicates that mental illness stigma on college campuses can undermine the effectiveness of student services, prevent students from advocating for their needs, delay them in seeking help, and even increase the risk of suicide.
The toolbox website contains information about becoming a "champion of change," project goals, the science behind the project, upcoming events, and more. An early step in the project is to obtain accurate data about mental illness stigma on campus. Students arriving in August were given a gift bag if they filled out a survey. A series of anti-stigma messages will then be developed and distributed throughout the campus community. Students will learn how to help other students they feel might need assistance. A class will be offered to students who want to learn how to be mentors for the project. And that's just the beginning.
As in any undertaking like this, future interventions will flow from the data collected and the outcomes of initial efforts. It has to grow organically, making sure to include students in the process every step of the way. That's exactly what IUB and the Bring Change 2 Mind Foundation are doing, which brings me pride in my alma mater and great confidence that the College Toolbox Project will be a success.
IUB Newsroom (September 11, 2014). New mental illness stigma program at IU supported by star power, network science. http://news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/2014/09/college-toolbox.shtml
Thank You! - Carrie Steckl, Ph,D. - Oct 1st 2014
Thanks so much for your comment and for mentioning Active Minds -- sounds like a terrific resource and I will definitely check it out!
Great Article! - Janet Singer - Oct 1st 2014
I couldn't agree more with everything you say, Carrie, and I know Bring Change 2 Mind is a wonderful organization. I can't read an article about the stigma of mental health at the college level without mentioning another organization called Active Minds: http://activeminds.org/about/our-story. Started a the University of Pennsylvania by Alison Malmon after the suicide of her brother in 2000, this has become an incredibly successful organization on campuses across the country, and it is run by students themselves to combat stigma and help others. Thank you again for this great article.