Raising Awareness through Education and Advocacy

With a larger number of students who experience mental health problems enrolling in colleges and universities, it is important for campuses to promote mental health and provide avenues to students for help and support. Campuses are raising awareness about mental health by educating faculty, staff and students to be mental health allies and by creating an environment of support for students with mental health issues.

Raising Awareness

This website contains information on the facts about suicide as well as data on mental illness and college students. Use this information to increase the awareness and understanding of your campus members about mental health issues. Ways to distribute the information include:

  • Articles and editorials in the student newspaper
  • Awareness tables or mental health fairs
  • Poster campaigns
  • Mental health speakers
  • Bulletin boards or bathroom stall newsletters

Cultivating Mental Health Allies

Faculty, staff and students are often the first to realize that a student is experiencing mental health problems. A student who needs help may first seek help from a trusted faculty member or another student. By providing these “gatekeepers” with the proper training on how to respond and refer, you can make seeking help for mental health as normal as seeking help for study skills or text anxiety. Once trained, faculty, staff and students can exhibit “Mental Health Safe Zone” signs to let students know that they are mental health allies. The “Encouraging Help Seeking” section of this manual provides additional information on training mental health allies.

Also See the Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training Section of the Website.

Create an Environment of Support

Campuses can create acceptance and easy access to help for students with mental illnesses by developing campus and community partnerships for mental health. Initiate a plan to create campus wide support for mental health and to increase accessibility to mental health resources. A supportive environment is characterized by involvement by a wide variety of campus and community members, policies that provide support for students with mental illness, and programs that increase the acceptance of students living with mental illnesses and reduce the misinformation and misunderstanding about mental disorders.

Promoting Mental Health

  • 80–90% of people with depression respond positively to treatment.
  • 80–90% of people with bipolar disorder can be treated effectively with medication and psychotherapy.
  • Only about 25% of young adults 18–24 believe that a person with a mental illness can actually recover.
  • 85% of Americans believe that people with mental illnesses are not to blame for their conditions.
  • 26% of Americans agree that people are generally caring and sympathetic toward individuals with mental illnesses.

In reality, recovery is an expected norm with mental illness. We have a lot of education that needs to take place when it comes to understanding mental illness.

Taking a Close Look at Our Language

Few would disagree that issues of mental health and suicide have been stigmatized over the course of history, and one of the ways we challenge stigma is by watching our use of language. Thus, throughout this section, we will use the phrases “die by suicide” or “took their lives” rather than “committed suicide,” as the latter phrase emerged during a time when suicide was thought of as a crime or a mortal sin. Likewise the terms “completed suicide” and “successful suicide” are often frowned upon because they give a positive status to a negative outcome.

In the field of suicide prevention, those who are impacted by a loved one’s suicide are interchangeably described as “bereaved by suicide” or “suicide survivors.” The latter term here is often confusing to the lay public whose first impression is that “suicide survivors” are those who have lived through a nonfatal suicidal behavior; thus to clarify, those who have lived through a suicide attempt are referred to as “suicide attempt survivors.” Currently, there is much debate about the phrase “suicide attempt” because this too indicates that one “failed” in their intention to die; however, to date the language to replace this phrase remains in flux. One of the more endorsed replacement is nonfatal deliberate self-harm, but that is quite a mouthful. In addition this new phrase does not clarify that self-harm does not always have an ending goal of death, as does a suicide attempt. Thus, as the field of suicide prevention continues to grow, issues of language will continue to evolve.

In the field of mental health there is also debate. When describing diagnostic categories of mental and emotional distress, some people prefer the term “mental illness” because it underscores the biological basis for the diagnoses and people can make the connection of having to manage a chronic disease just as they would diabetes or high cholesterol. Others find this term conjures up images of people in straight jackets and is usually associated with extreme forms of distress or distortion (e.g., psychosis). Others find that the idea of a chronic mental illness is not comforting, but feels like a life sentence of despair, and thus, some of these people prefer the term “mental disorder” because it feels like a more temporary state. Dis-order — something that is out of order and can be put back into order but does not define one’s whole life. To others, the term “mental disorder” also evokes negative feelings of being disturbed or deranged. Even the phrase “mental health issues”, often used as the most inclusive of the three terms because everyone has mental health, is often seen with skepticism. Because of these issues in language, this web site will interchange these three terms throughout.

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