Mental illness exists, even here on campus. It’s not some- thing to ignore, but being edu- cated on the issue can help usto fight the stigma, help thosearound us, and improve our own mental health.
First of all, what are the most common mental illness- es on campus? Steve Rogers, both a professor in the psy- chology department here at Westmont and a clinical psy- chologist at his own private practice, states, “The most common mental illnesses on campus tend to be disorders of anxiety … However, eating disorders and depression con- tinue to be prevalent.” Beyond these, feelings of loneliness, inadequacy and incompe- tency often plague the minds of students here. Knowing
the common mental illness- es to which people are often susceptible can be helpful toknow in case you find yourselfexperiencing them.
However, if you suspect that you may be dealing with a mental illness yourself, Rog- ers warns, “It’s important not to engage in self-diagnosis. This can lead to someone un- dervaluing their distress or inaccurately labeling a symp- tom.” Remaining silent about what you are feeling can also be unhelpful, and there are great resources here on cam- pus where mental profession- als at the Counseling Center can help students, in Rogers’ words, “understand the na- ture of their challenge and the best ways to proceed.” Thera- py may be enough, and add- ing medication may bring the best results, but even changes in lifestyle such as better man-
aging stress can greatly im- prove things.
“Unfortunately, there can be a stigma about mental ill- ness on campus,” states Rog-ers. Socially-defined normscan create in people a strong desire to seem well-adjusted, which results in judgement or stigma (a mark of social disgrace). According to Rog- ers, people can also be afraid of mental illness because they may not know how to con- ceptualize it theologically and because they may believe that their faith protects them from mental illness. Rogers says,“These illnesses don’t fit ourunderstanding of the natural world, which creates fear and uncertainty.” This stigma is something to watch out for, but being educated about it in- stead of shying away from the issue can bring us a long way towards putting an end to it.
With that stigma in mind, how can we best respond when we encounter those in our lives with mental illness? Rogers responds, “Westmont students can respond best to encounters with mental illness by embracing compassion, cu- riosity, openness, and humili- ty.” It’s important to avoid fear and pity, as well as the tempta- tion to provide advice, because these can all make the situa- tion worse for those dealingwith the difficulties of mentalillness. For example, the state- ment “try to think more posi- tively” typically does not help. Rogers also adds that, espe- cially on a Christian campus, it’s crucial to avoid attributing one’s mental illness solely to spiritual factors.
Rogers encourages, “Even for students who aren’t ac- tively struggling with a par- ticular mental illness, there
are a variety of tools that can cultivate better mental health.” These tools include cultivating a healthy diet, exercise, and sleep regimen, creating healthy expectationsfor oneself, finding meaningand purpose in one’s life, en- gaging in regular check-ins with oneself, spending time outside and away from social media, focusing on others in- stead of oneself in modera- tion, and striking a healthy balance between comfort and discomfort.
It’s our responsibility as a campus to take mental health seriously, but it is also an op- portunity to support those around us and remind us to have compassion for our- selves.