Jada Hester, Correspondent
Over the past several years, society has collectively made efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Getting educated, learning about available resources, and raising awareness are all ways people have become more informed about mental illnesses. This is especially true for college students, but society as a whole has become much more mindful about mental health, as well.
In society, more and more people are learning that mental health is just as important as physical health. Some parents give their children “mental health days,” or days where kids can stay home if they don’t have the ability to deal with school mentally. People are also changing the way they speak, such as not using bipolar as an insult. In addition, society is slowly changing the way it feels about using medication to assuage a mental illness. While exercise and hobbies can help reduce the effects, sometimes people need medication in order to feel better. Society is beginning to understand that just like people need medicine to cure a cold sometimes, people might need antidepressants for their depression, too.
On the subject of college, most universities today have dedicated some amount of time and effort into mental health awareness. One example is Jacksonville State University in Alabama. Even as a fairly small college, JSU has many resources available to students including clubs, counseling services, and the Safe Zone program. Since becoming more aware of mental illnesses and the stigma surrounding them, the campus has become a safer and more inclusive space for students to thrive.
Many of the organizations on campus help give students a voice and allow them to flourish in a stable and happy environment. One example would be Full SPECTRUM, an LGBTQ+ club dedicated to promoting a safe space for people of that community. Another example is W.I.S.E., or Women’s Issues Support and Empowerment. Clubs like these create a secure environment for people with mental illnesses. For example, taking part in a group of like-minded individuals can assure someone with anxiety that they aren’t alone.
Counseling Services, which has been moved across campus recently, is one of the best resources for students on campus struggling with their mental health. It’s free for students, and they don’t necessarily have to make an appointment to see a counselor at first. Anyone can go without fear of how they will look to their friends because it is all confidential. Some of the services offered inside the building are normal counseling sessions, support groups, and various workshops and programs. Just like clubs and organizations, Counseling Services offers a safe space for students to better their mental health.
Safe Zone is relatively new to Jacksonville State University. It is a program that provides a safe space for anyone that needs it. Safe Zone stickers are scattered across campus, including places such as professors’ doors, and they indicate that the area is safe for all gender identities and sexual orientations. Areas protected by Safe Zone currently are Counseling Services, Dean of Students, Houston Cole Library, Housing and Residence Life, and Title IX. By creating a welcoming campus, JSU has supported and comforted those who may not feel accepted. This encourages better mental health from everyone, especially those that are not cisgender or heterosexual.
There are a few ways JSU could improve its awareness. Although Mental Health Awareness Month is in May, related on-campus activities and programs could be planned for April. JSU could also create a club, not a counseling program, specifically dedicated to bettering mental health. All the steps so far have been made in the right direction, so hopefully the university will be able to continue its mental health awareness mantra in the future.
Society is also moving in the right direction, but there are still key things that it has yet to accomplish overall. Some examples are supporting young children who show early signs of mental illnesses, mental health training and interventions in the workplace, and familiarizing people with the signs of a panic or anxiety attack. Increasing society’s understanding of mental health is the crucial element to raising awareness and preventing mental illnesses.
Jacksonville State University has done a lot over the years to become more aware of mental health. While society still has a long way to go, universities are great places for things like Safe Zone to exist and prosper. With this mindset, when students graduate, they can become the generation that creates a more accepting, attentive world, especially when it comes to mental health.