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Mental Health Matters: Disorders to Think About: Students hesitate to seek treatment

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Elizabeth Ortiz
Health Editor

Five years ago 17-year-old Katie Madden sat with her parents and told them she needed to talk to them about a serious matter. Her parents were concerned and anxiously stared at her, waiting for her to begin speaking. Her voice was shaky as she confessed she had been having suicidal thoughts, and she began crying when she said she felt there was something emotionally wrong with her.

Her parents were initially in denial about­­ the news their daughter had shared with them, especially Katie’s mother, who suffers from anxiety, Madden, who graduated from the University of La Verne in January, said in a recent interview.

MentalHealth“It was so frustrating because I knew logically I had no reason to feel the way I did, but at the same time, I couldn’t control my emotions,” Madden said. “There were days where I had no desire to continue living. I slipped into a really dark state of being.”

Madden, who is now 22, said there was no specific incident that triggered her depression and anxiety, but her condition worsened after she lost the majority of her friends.

“My friends didn’t want to be around me anymore because they said I was too sad and just didn’t want to deal with my moods,” she said.

After talking about treatment options with her parents, Madden began attending therapy sessions. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and began taking Lexapro, which, she said, helps balance her emotions.

Madden is not alone in her struggle. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses among college students. According to the American Psychological Association, 41.6 percent of college students suffer from anxiety and 36.4 percent of college students suffer from depression.

“I always asked myself why I was depressed because I have a nice life, and I didn’t think there was a legitimate reason why I was feeling like this. Finally, I came to terms with the fact that it’s a chemical imbalance that I don’t always have control of,” Madden said.

Of the college students who suffer from a mental illness, 64 percent of them will drop out of college because they feel their university does not provide efficient mental health services, according to a study by the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

Nineteen percent of university counseling service directors also report that the availability of psychiatric services on their campus is inadequate, according to an APA survey.

“College is a (transitional) period for young adults and is often the time when they start showing signs of mental illness,” said Elleni Koulos, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of La Verne. “We treat students with an array of mental health problems, but anxiety and depression are the most common cases.”

Madden sought counseling at the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. She said the amount of support she received from the center helped her cope with her mental health struggles.

“We have a really awesome staff at the counseling center. They really make sure they address the needs of the students and do a good job pairing up the student and counselor. They’re probably one of the best services we have on campus, actually,” Madden said.

Koulos said she plans to expand the University’s counseling and psychological services and raise awareness about mental health on the University’s campus.

“I’m looking forward to increasing the mental health services on campus. Obviously, it’s a very critical issue: depression, anxiety. College students are going through so much, so I’m hoping to expand our counseling sector and just be able to offer services to whoever needs them,” Koulos said.

She added she will begin implementing group therapy sessions. She said more students will be encouraged to seek counseling when they realize there are dozens of other University students who suffer with mental health issues on campus.

According to the CAPS website, group therapy benefits participants because it allows students to talk about their experiences with others who can relate to their situation. The website adds group therapy gives students a chance to hear feedback and experiment with new behaviors.

Madden said she agrees and thinks group therapy will help students realize they are not alone in their struggle.

She added that without the University’s counseling services, she would not be able to receive adequate mental health care. She said the cost of therapy at a private practice is too expensive.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the costs of mental health services is one of the top reasons people with mental illnesses do not seek treatment.

Approximately 66 percent of people who received outpatient mental health services and had private medical insurance indicated their insurance did not cover the cost, while 44 percent of people who received inpatient care and had Medicaid or Medicare indicated most of their costs were covered, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The survey also found that 2.3 percent of people, who paid for their mental health services out-of-pocket, paid more than $5,000, and 9.6 percent of people, who paid out-of-pocket, paid more than $10,000.

The total taxpayer cost associated with mental illness is $300 billion per year, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

Those suffering with a mental illness not only have to worry about cost, but they also worry about the stigma attached to their condition, Sharon Davis, professor of sociology, said.

“I think first of all we’re not used to dealing with mentally disordered on a daily basis. Our society tends to keep them hidden and hide them physically, or we hide them by just not talking about it,” Davis said.

“There may be people in our presence who have diagnosable mental illnesses, but they don’t talk about it because it is stigmatized, so (the public does not) feel like (they) know how to react. We feel uncomfortable when someone tells us that they’re mentally disordered. We tend to react negatively, and we want to get away,” she added.

Madden agreed and said people need to be more understanding about mental health conditions. She said she has never been bullied directly, but her friends initially had difficulty understanding her condition.

“People are scared of you or tiptoe around you. That’s a generalization, but you know there are also people who can be really supportive. I think we need more of that, especially on college campuses and during this weird transitional period of our lives,” Madden said.

She said she is lucky that she has a strong support group, but acknowledges that some people who struggle with their mental health are not as fortunate as she.

Seven percent of college students have seriously considered suicide, according to NAMI.

Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among college students and the third leading cause of death among young adults between ages 10 and 24.

Jamie Ritchey, community capacity organizer at Tri-City Mental Health Services in Pomona, said the organization seeks to educate the community with the Room4Everyone campaign.

The campaign aims to address the stigma attached to mental illnesses and provides education about mental health.

“The funding for the project, Room4Everyone, and for that division of Tri-City comes from the Mental Health Services Act – Prop 63 funding,” Antonette Navarro, executive director at Tri-City Mental Health Services, said.

“That funding was started in California 10 years ago (and) gives Tri-City the ability to really promote early intervention (for mental illness), and anti-stigma and suicide prevention.”

The University began offering a community service class in fall 2014 that partners with Tri-City Mental Health Services and aims to reduce the stigma and stereotypes against mental illness by allowing students who are enrolled in the class to volunteer their time with Tri-City.

In addition, Room4Everyone and Carolyn Cockrell, community service professor, partnered in an attempt to educate University students about the effects of mental illness.

Ritchey, as well as individuals who have recovered from mental illnesses, present statistics, share personal stories with the students in Cockrell’s classes and inform them about the myths and facts of mental illnesses.

“I just want everyone to understand how common mental health challenges are, and we probably all go through something at some time in our lives as well as being related to people in our family and friend and professional circles (who suffer from a mental illness),” Cockrell said.

Madden agrees and said people need to be more understanding about mental health conditions.

“I feel like there has been a little more dialogue opened up about it, especially in the media. People kind of start to take things a little more seriously when they see Robin Williams and stuff like that happening. It’s horrible, but it draws the attention back to, ‘yeah, these are real issues. Depression is a real thing.’ And it should be treated as a real thing. Mental illness is like having any other disease, and it shouldn’t be stigmatized,” Madden said.

Madden added it is a daily struggle coping with a mental illness, but she takes her recovery one day at a time.

“In the beginning, I used to think, ‘okay, I’ve been suffering with this for three months,’ but now my mentality has changed, so I see it as I have been moving forward for five years. I still have my dark days, but there’s so few compared to the good days.”

For more information on the University’s CAPS visit sites.laverne.edu/caps or call 909-448-4105.

For more information on mental health visit tricitymhs.org or call 909-623-9500.

Elizabeth Ortiz can be reached at elizabeth.ortiz@laverne.edu or on Twitter @lizannortiz.

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