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Fredrickson: College students often neglect mental health

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

It’s no secret that students are more or less stressed out. The life of a student is hectic, busy, and fraught with turmoil in work, personal relationships, and discovering identity.

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This life can lead to a high rate of mental health concerns. On average, 86 percent of students in a national survey reported feeling overwhelmed, and 50 percent had felt overwhelming anxiety.

Yet, only 20 percent of college students will seek professional help with their mental health sometime during their college career.

Seeking care for mental health is a perfectly normal, acceptable part of life. Looking after mental health is just as important as looking after physical health. Individuals and organizations should put effort into identifying the barriers to students for accessing mental health care in order to help them access it.

I have anxiety. I’ve always had anxiety, but I never even dreamed of seeing a counselor or getting psychiatric treatment. That was until a series of events including reporting on a triple homicide, my boyfriend cheating on me, and working 60 hours a week on top of school caused me to not sleep at all for almost a week. Anytime I tried to sleep, panic attacks would wake me up.

That was my breaking point. But I should never have let it get that serious before doing something about it. After all, I would never have let pneumonia build up in my chest until I physically couldn’t take it anymore.

Up until this breaking point I told myself, it’s all in my head so I should be able to fix it on my own. But after a certain point I realized that I couldn’t fix it on my own. I was invalidating my suffering because it was mental.

Now, I take medication and seek counseling when I need it. My experiences helped me to come a long way in understanding mental health. The brain is a part of the body, and experiences felt in the brain are no less valid health concerns than those felt in the rest of the body.

Nonetheless, there is a definite societal stigma around mental health. It’s no accident that I thought for most of my life that if it was happening in my head I should be able to fix it myself. That is what society believes, what society conditions its members to believe.

But college students have to know better. There is no shame in seeking care for mental health.

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Andrew Romanoff, the CEO of Mental Health Colorado and former Colorado Speaker for the House, wrote an op-ed describing what he views as major barriers in Colorado to accessing mental health care. He acknowledges the stigma, saying that many people feel that their mental health problems are personal and are thus unwilling to discuss them with a professional.

Additionally, Romanoff discusses the practical barriers to healthcare as well. Students at CSU get five free counseling sessions per semester, but for those in need of frequent visits five might not be enough. When I was in the worst part of my anxiety, I saw a counselor at least once a week for a year, and twice a week for a few months.

Once those five free sessions are up, students will find themselves navigating the ever-complex world of insurance. Though the law requires equal coverage for mental and physical health insurance, this law is not enforced, according to Romanoff. This leads to difficulties finding providers that take insurance.

Even when insurance does cover it, this doesn’t do much good if people don’t believe their insurance works. Romanoff said nearly half the people in the state don’t think their insurance would cover mental health. While sometimes this may be true, much of the time it is a mistaken perception that becomes a barrier to accessing care.

CSU takes most insurance, provided it is not a low-income insurance from out of state. Students at this university are lucky, and they should take advantage of this while they can.

Nearly all college students will experience some sort of mental health struggle during their college career. Every college student should utilize the counseling services available to them now, and should understand their insurance for coverage outside of university. Asking for help with mental health is no more shameful than going to the doctor with a flu.

In the wise, wise words of Albus Dumbledore, “Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42

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