STORY BY KAYLA MARPLE
An increasing number of students at Drake University are seeking out mental health services through therapy or academic accommodations.
However, others are still unaware of how to get the help they need or are reluctant because of the stigma attached to mental illness, according to the Counseling Center and Disabilities Services.
The Drake University Counseling Center provides short-term counseling for students, most commonly for anxiety and depression.
Melissa Nord, a therapist for the Counseling Center, said a typical session may include discussing the individual’s family history with mental illness, their background and any specific concerns that students may want to address.
“I’ve talked to several students who say, ‘you know, I was really nervous to come in here because I just didn’t know what this was about or I don’t want to go to counseling,’ so we try to demystify that when we have a student come in,” Nord said.
These hesitations show that students still have negative portrayals and attitudes about mental illness, which the counseling center is trying to change.
“I don’t think that enough is done and I’m not quite sure what avenues maybe we should take,” Nord said.
The center reaches out to First Year Seminar classes and Resident Assistant trainings to create awareness.
However, Nord would like to spread the message further.
“I think maybe just having the general information in classes would be helpful,” Nord said.
Nord reports that 10 to 20 percent of Drake students seek counseling, and this percentage is growing.
Even though the counseling center is raising more awareness, these efforts are not always successful.
“I wasn’t even aware we had an official counseling center,” Christopher Kliethermes, a psychology professor who has been at Drake for four years, said.
He is excited that this resource is in place and is connected with the Health Center.
“That’s how it should be,” Kliethermes said. “A psychological disorder is kind of a dumb term when it comes down to it. They’re all physiological disorders as far as I’m concerned.”
His approach to decreasing the stigma towards mental disorders is changing how they are viewed medically.
“Fundamentally for me the approach would be to say that there is no difference between them, and that’s still a contentious issue unfortunately because there’s still lots of people who want to view the psychiatric or psychological mental disorders as just fundamentally different from something like heart disease or cancer or diabetes, where in each of those cases you have a ‘real’ effect you can look at,” Kliethermes said.
Michelle Laughlin is the coordinator for disability services at Drake University, and the only member of the department.
In addition to helping students with physical disabilities, she helps students with mental disorders receive needed accommodations.
These may include extended testing times for students with anxiety or schedule flexibility for those with depression.
Laughlin advocates for greater awareness of mental health resources and a more accepting environment for students to get the help they need.
However, spreading this message can be difficult without the needed manpower, she said, especially with an increasing number of students requesting these services. She sees at least 60 to 70 students each year for mental health disorders.
“I think education is the key,” Laughlin said. “I think the reason why there is that stigma is that people just don’t understand what types of things happen with a student with a mental health disorder, or what types of resources they can receive. I think that students may be afraid to come in because of that reason, but I think the more we do outreach, that can help reach those students and get them the help they need.”
Through the Counseling Center and Disability Services, students have options yet many are unaware or feel unable to get this help.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Laughlin said. “I think we offer those resources, I think it’s just a matter of getting those resources in the hands of the people who need them.”
Awareness is slowly changing viewpoints.
“Mental health issues do not make you weird, do not make you abnormal,” Nord said. “These concerns are very common. I think more people are becoming aware of that and that it’s not such a stigma or such an unheard of thing.”