Our Opinion: It’s Time to Prioritize Mental Health

This Halloween, what scares us more than haunted houses or walking home alone at night hides from plain sight. We at the Wheel believe we need to address the issue of mental health and stress on campus, a prevalent problem that does not seem to be at the forefront of preventative campus initiatives.

In a world dominated by rankings, statistics and competition, it is not surprising to us that students are stressed. What is surprising is that the American Psychological Association found that universities across the nation have seen an increase in the prevalence of severe psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety. This is not the type of stress that gives you an extra boost of adrenaline on test day. This is the type of stress that compounds over time, builds in quiet increments, is relentless in eating away at a student’s mental health.

The shocking truth is that mental illness is pervasive and does not necessarily look the way we expect it to. It may be a week of not eating. It may be not feeling motivation to get out of bed for a month. It may be isolation. It may be generalized anxiety. It may not even present itself in a way that we understand completely. And for something that is so prevalent, some of us certainly do our best to pretend it isn’t there or make light of it. “That’s crazy,” some say to refer to things they find unusual. “You’re overreacting,” others say to someone voicing their feelings of stress. At the same time, there is a widespread notion that everyone is just as stressed as everyone else.

We live in a world where mental illnesses are swept aside and those suffering from them are silenced because the people and institutions we entrust with our minds have not acknowledged the prevalence and importance of mental well being. The task of fostering a University culture in which mental health is just as if not more important than academic and professional success falls upon those who set the terms of the culture: the administration and the faculty.

In light of this issue on campus, we need to have more flexible guidelines for appropriate excuses on tests and classwork. We need to work with students who express suicidal thoughts and depression, not simply resort to medical leave. We need to acknowledge that many often neglect their personal relationships, healthy sleep, diet habits or exercise to fulfill the demands of Emory academics. Whether or not the University is concerned with or even knows about the prevalence of these habits, we find them to be unacceptable. Being a student at Emory should never exacerbate or be the cause of a mental illness.

To be clear, there are numerous campus resources available for students seeking mental health counseling, including Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Emory Helpline. But all the world-class facilities and premier mental health professionals in the world will not help a community that does not acknowledge it has a problem. No matter these services’ effectiveness, students won’t show up to their doorsteps with a culture that at best, ignores mentally unhealthy people and at worst, ostracizes and silences them.

While measures of success are important, there is more to the well being of students than their academic success and the physical quality of their campus. The absence of students’ mental well being in Emory’s mission statement is resounding, and, for many, whether the University intends this or not, lays out the reality of the University’s priorities: mental health is second string.

While mental illness may be discussed among close friends, during a club meeting, behind closed doors, there is no evidence that this is the subject of a campus-wide discussion in the way it should be. We ask that Emory not only meaningfully address mental illness on our campus but also adopt into its mission an investment in the mental health of its students.

The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel‘s editorial board.