College campuses around the country are beginning to realize the importance of educating their students on mental health and suicide prevention. In 2012, suicide became the second leading cause of death among college students, and nearly 1 in 4 individuals 18-years-old and older will be affected by a mental illness each year (DontBeSidelined.com). According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clinical depression often emerges for the first time in adolescence and increasing numbers of students are seeking help for emotional problems that occur after they arrive at college.
In the wake of three student suicides, the University of Pennsylvania hired on more staff and therapists in their Counseling and Psychological Services department. Among them hired was Kameelah Rashad, a 2000 graduate from the university who also serves as the Associate Chaplain and Muslim minister.
Rashad has played a pivotal role in improving mental health and reducing stigma on the school’s campus through religion. Campus ministers of all faiths have been making their support and counseling services more available to any students who need help.
“Many students believe that if they have faith in God, if they are good Muslims or good Christians, then they should be able to get through this on their own,” Rashad said. “I hear this often in the Muslim community, that mental illness is an indication of weak faith or that is a punishment from God.” (thedp.com)
Mental illness can affect people of all races, economic status, and religion. It is important for youth adults across the country to understand that and know that reaching out for help is not a weakness. Colleges all over the US have been implementing mental health awareness groups and are offering more mental health services to students than ever before.
Active Minds is a campus group that empowers students to change their perception about mental health on college campuses. The program was started by Alison Malmon at the University of Pennsylvania, after she lost her older brother Brian to suicide in 2000. Active Minds now has 409 campus chapters across the country (ActiveMinds.org). There are currently two active Nebraska chapters, at Hastings College and Wayne State College.
This fall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, junior Brock Thompson, has been working diligently to establish a chapter in Lincoln. Brock began noticing an increase of mental health concerns among his peers after a friend who was struggling with bipolar disorder took their own life.
“It really struck me,” Thompson said. “Since then, other stories on the news where mental health is a factor seem to keep popping up in really big ways.”
The UNL group currently meets on Tuesday evenings with the goal to teach people that mental illness isn’t just something that happens to other people, and it’s OK to ask for help.
Creighton University in Omaha is also working towards creating a nationally recognized Active Minds group on campus with the help of four seniors from the College of Arts & Sciences. The University has already embraced the need to increase awareness of mental health related issues, and The Kim Foundation was even invited out to the campus to speak with students earlier in the fall.
Another group that has been popping up around the country is NAMI on Campus. NAMI on Campus provides information and resources to support students’ mental health and to empower them to take action on their college campuses. It helps to ensure that all students have positive, successful, and fun college experiences. There are over 180 NAMI on Campus clubs, and new groups are being formed every day (NAMI.org). The University of Nebraska-Omaha has an active NAMI group that we even had the opportunity to speak with earlier in the year!
With the emergence of each new campus group, we are making a new step toward removing the stigma surrounding mental illness.
About Jill Sauser, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator
Jill graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. During her time at UNO, she completed a two year PR practicum program where she worked with numerous nonprofit clients including the MS Society, The Archdiocese of Omaha, The Omaha Food Bank and YWCA. Jill joined The Kim Foundation as Project Coordinator in April 2014.