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23 January 2014

Social Justice Week to address mental health disparities

The daily pressures of being a college student could easily take a negative toll on the mental health of any student. But before the semester swings into full effect, two students hope to save the campus from spiraling down paths of unhealthy mental problems.

Riana Brown and Meera Nagarsheth are co-chairs of Mental Health Disparities, an event that will focus on mental health issues at UM and on a global scale. The event will be held on the Green Jan. 30 at noon and is one of a series of events in Social Justice Week 2014, which Nagarsheth said seeks to foster action regarding various social problems.

Nagarsheth said the event will highlight the topic of mental health as it relates to a larger context of social ills.

“Mental health ties into a lot of different social issues: poverty, health access, race and socioeconomic status,” Nagarsheth said. “We’re focusing on mental health on a college campus, but that conversation can be applied to a greater global society.”

Disparities in mental health refer to the differences in prevalence and diagnosis of mental disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), blacks and Hispanics experience mental illness at lower rates than their white counterparts. But researchers argue that some ethnic-cultural and socioeconomic minorities are adversely underdiagnosed because they do not seek professional attention.

Latest studies from NIHM also show that college-aged adults are affected by mental illness. A little over four percent of adults ages 18 to 25 years old have serious mental illness.

Nagarsheth said she hopes other students will recognize the importance of addressing mental health, especially as it pertains to the university setting.

“It’s something that’s super relevant to a lot of people, especially on college campuses where there’s a lot of opportunities for you to breed anxiety,” she said.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental disorders experienced in the U.S.  About 30 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 experience anxiety at least once and every year 6.7 percent of U.S. adults suffer depression. Everyone experiences levels of both, but they are considered severe if they debilitate healthy day-to-day life.

Challenges to coping with high stress levels contribute to the prevalence of both anxiety and depression on UM’s campus, said Darren Bernal, a counseling psychology Ph.D. student and intern at the Counseling Center. He said that college campuses reflect the health concerns of society at large.

But as Neil Schneiderman, director of UM’s division of health psychology, points out, there is one major distinction between college students and most of society. Education makes a huge difference in how college students think about mental health issues.

“To some extent, people have stigmas. I would imagine that college students have less than the general community,” Schneiderman said.

Both researchers and mental health professionals argue that mental health is an intricate aspect of overall wellness. Maintaining a healthy mind deserves the same attention as goals to stay in great physical shape.

“It’s all on the health spectrum,” Bernal said. “Mental health is just another component of the things that we deal with as humans.”

The Mental Health Disparities event will point students to on-campus resources, classes and research on mental health, volunteer opportunities and community partners that promote mental health.

Schneiderman said the event is an important move for the campus community.

“That’s a great idea because people should help other people,” he said. “That’s the nature of what humans are supposed to be about.”

Students experiencing any psychological crisis are encouraged to visit the counseling center. It offers free services to students who need treatment for SMI and help in a wide range of topics like concerns about graduate school, relationship problems, choosing a career and identity issues.