Students, counselors work to destigmatize mental illness

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

Leading mental health organizations are saying the negative portrayal of the mentally ill in media and entertainment continues to discourage treatment, leading to grave consequences.

Only 50 percent of college students with a mental illness choose to disclose their condition to their university, according to a 2012 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Additionally, one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness, and suicide has been ranked as the second-highest cause of death among college students.

Jaime Clark, director of counseling and psychological services, said cases often go unreported in part because of the stigma associated with mental illness.


“I think there’s a lack of understanding of the confidential nature of counseling, and there are certainly some professions that [students] might fear would be impacted by having a mental health history or treatment history,” Clark said. 

The Student Health Center serves as the main mental health resource for students in the region. Receiving treatment on campus, she said, affords students the opportunity to save on clinic visits, which can cost upward of $150 an hour in a private practice. 

Clark said the university outpaces colleges around the nation in the number of students with severe mental health disorders such as bipolar depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which are often accompanied by self-injurious behavior and suicidal ideation. 

Specialty treatment teams have been formed at the university in recent years to address the unique needs of students who are victims of sexual assault, veteran combat survivors, or suffer from eating disorders, to name a few.  

Statistics like these are what inspired Caroline Dunn, a junior from Crestwood studying business economics, to become involved in the registered student organization Active Minds, a national group dedicated to eliminating stigmas of mental health issues.

“Each year 1,100 college students commit suicide,” Dunn said. “To me, just one is too much.”

Since it was founded three years ago, SIUC’s branch has worked to shed light on common misconceptions regarding mental illness through awareness campaigns on campus and advising students about the services available to them.


But Dunn said some regard the accommodations given to students with mental illnesses as special treatment, often by peers who cannot comprehend the debilitating effects mental illness can have.

“People don’t understand that these things are just as much a physical thing as a mental thing,” she said.

From her experience working with Active Minds, Dunn said she has learned people who suffer from a mental illness battle with an internal struggle that often goes unnoticed, which makes the need for increased awareness a top priority. 

“You wouldn’t really see it to the naked eye unless you were that person’s friend,” she said. 

Bill Lukitsch can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @Bill_LukitschDE .