Removing the Stigma of Mental Heath Treatment

By Abbie-Lauren Meredith, News Editor –

“Once mentally ill, always mentally ill.”

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about mental illness, according to Sandra Bush from Health West.

The reality is that one in five Americans will suffer from a mental illness this year. That is almost one-fifth of the student population at MCC. Traditional college students are at high risk for anxiety and depression as they begin new experiences and handle the stresses of college.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 15-24 and one in four college students is on some sort of antidepressant or antianxiety medication. In Muskegon County alone, a suicide occurs every other week — 56 percent higher than the national average. Mental health has become a serious issue.

Students are stressed out about homework, relationships, jobs and finances, and most are unaware of their own mental illness.

What most people do not realize about being diagnosed with a mental illness is that they can get better.

“Unfortunately, the organ associated with mental illness is the brain and when the brain is involved, you don’t think clearly,” said Michael Pyne from Health West. This is why students do not go to speak with counselors; they don’t know they need help.

A stigma has been created around the term “mental illness” and students are expected to handle the stresses and get over it. That alone is a huge barrier for people who need to get help; no one wants to be labeled as their illness or seen as weak.

“You would never tell someone on dialysis to just get over it,” Pyne said, “but that’s what we do with mental illnesses.”

More than thirty percent of students reported feeling so depressed in the past year that they had difficulty functioning. More than 50 percent of students report having felt extreme anxiety.

How can students be expected to succeed academically when more than half are suffering from extreme anxiety?

MCC has six licensed counselors available to talk or help guide students in the right direction. The same counselors who help students decide what classes they should take can offer counseling on personal life issues. MCC is a site for mental health first aid classes offered through Health West for students who want to become trained mental health first aid responders. The classes held on campus are popular and fill up quickly.

Classes are eight hours long and teach the warning signs as well as ways to respond to people who might be at risk for suicide, substance abuse, and other behaviors needing help finding the right resources.

Those attending are taught the ALGEE method when responding to people in crisis.

Action A: Assess for risk of suicide or harm. Common signs include dramatic changes in mood, substance abuse, threatening to hurt or kill oneself. These signs will help determine the severity of the situation and medical professionals should be contacted if the person is in immediate danger.

Action L: Listen nonjudgmentally. Open body language and good listening skills are crucial when handling a crisis to help make the person feel heard and respected.

Action G: Give reassurance and information. Mental health first aid is meant to keep people out of immediate danger and to provide resources to the individual with no judgment.

Action E: Encourage appropriate professional help and is the first aiders job to guide someone in the right direction for professional help.

Action E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies. People can counter feelings of anxiety or depression with the help of mediation, exercise, and hobbies, but professional help should be given as well.

Another class offered is Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR). These classes teach how to confront people people suspected of being suicidal and how to respond. Among key actions taught are to direct with questioning and not to be afraid. Another is to persuade the individual to seek professional help and listen carefully. Lastly is to refer them to a medical professional, counselor, parents, coach, or anyone who can help them.

MCC is also trying to fight the stigma of mental health with the help of Sally Birkam, dean of Student Success and Campus Life, who is hoping to start a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) On Campus club next semester.

The goal of NAMI On Campus is to end the stigma, make it ok to seek help, and to make sure everyone knows how to help a friend and to ensure campuses are a welcoming place for everyone.

“Most people don’t realize the small things they say to someone can have a big impact on them if they are suffering from a mental illness,” Birkam said.

The next mental health first aid class will be on Tuesday, November 17, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Health West. There is no charge.

NAMI On Campus needs at least eight students to organize. Interested students can contact Birkam in the Student Success and Campus Life office, 103 Main or at


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