USG and Student Health and Wellness held a panel about college mental health Thursday in honor of World Mental Health Day. The four panelists — mental health professionals Dr. Sarah Ketchen Lipson and Dr. Clewiston Challenger and UConn students Kanu Caplash and Jovanni Vicenty — came together to give different perspectives and levels of expertise to discuss the topic, with Dr. Amanda Waters, UConn’s resident multi-cultural specialist and staff psychologist, presiding over the discussion.
Challenger said competitive and stress-inducing academics have dangerously combined with the fact that students don’t know to seek help. Lipson echoed this, saying students at her school weren’t seeking mental health services even when they were struggling. She said that this is partly because college is a common time for mental health issues to arise in young people, and so many students have no idea how to help themselves and manage their mental health. She said that this, along with racial and ethnic inequalities in mental health, are the reasons she went into this profession.
Caplash is a mental health advocate at UConn. He said that he took an interest in mental health after struggling with it himself. He realized that considering how hard an experience it was for him, it must be a huge problem for a large number of his fellow students, and he would love to help alleviate that problem for them.
Lipson explained that many students don’t seek help because they perceive it as abnormal and something to be ashamed of. Many students don’t even speak with their friends about it because they assume everyone else is doing fine. Vicenty responded that students need to unlearn this kind of behavior that they had been raised to believe in order to break the stigma and seek the help they require.
“It’s definitely always beneficial to try and kind of just listen and see what other people are thinking,” Angela Su, a fifth-semester allied health sciences major, said. “It helps you think about or realize what your beliefs are, and also really think about things from other people’s perspectives.”
Challenger said this stigma is less prevalent depending on the socio-economic background of different people. Someone from a wealthier family, who had therapists and psychologists available to them since they were young, is more likely to talk about their feelings and seek help in college. Someone from a less wealthy background, with no experience in the mental health field, may view the idea of seeing a psychologist as a declaration of “I’m crazy, I’m nuts.” This also depends on the normalization of mental health in the culture and community of the student. If their family and friends act like anti-depressants and counseling make someone crazy, they’ll be predisposed to be against it. Challenger explained that this tends to happen with people of color, thus causing an inefficiency in mental health support for them.
Caplash is from Fairfield County, where 95% of the population is white. This caused him to feel excluded and othered when he was younger, which is a mentality that only worsened overtime. Once he got to UConn and joined USG, he finally got the support and acceptance which encouraged him to seek mental health support. Lipson explained that many students need allyship, especially in the face of hate crimes and growing hostility in the country. If there isn’t someone there to support you, be there for you and give you that crucial sense of belonging, then it will be nearly impossible to achieve good mental health.
“I thought it was really interesting to see mental health from a different perspective,” Aislinn Smith, a first-semester business major, said.
Challenger explained that children and teens spend their entire youths trying to find a way to fit in and gain that accepting support group. College often demolishes these support groups and leaves students desperately searching for new ones. The question of “Do I fit in?” can become an obsession which trickles into academics, social lives and overall happiness in college. If a student can’t find this accepting group and does not seek help, they are more likely to drop out or take more drastic measures.
By going to therapy, students can be given directly a sense of belonging from their therapist and the affirmation they need to gain that sense of fitting in with other students. Once a student feels they fit, they are more likely to join clubs, go to fun events on campus and try to make more friends. Challenger explained that this can be harder depending on your race, color or gender.
“You need to share more of your feelings and your thoughts piece by piece,” Challenger said. “If it doesn’t hurt you, keep moving forward.”
Vicenty said that it wasn’t until he sought therapy at UConn that he got that sense of belonging and began to have an easier time paying attention and learning in class. Vicenty told the audience that they should try not to judge people so much on their personality, without a consideration for their background and how they were raised. He reminded the audience that college students are still growing and are more than meets the eye.
“Sometimes being a good friend is being a good ear; listening to listen, not to respond,” Vicenty said.
Lipson said that 2-4% of people on college campuses identify as transgender. This small percent can’t fight for their rights and feeling of acceptance by themselves, the other 98% of students have to pitch in. Even if you don’t belong to a group that needs positive change, you can gain a sense of purpose and fulfillment from trying to be an ally.
“I think allyship can improve all the things we’ve been talking about here,” Lipson said.
If you or someone you know struggles with mental health, feel free to stop by the Mental Health department of Student Health and Wellness on the fourth floor of Arjona, or visit their website at https://counseling.uconn.edu/.
Rebecca Maher is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.