Across college campuses, students are becoming more open about mental illness and other mental health concerns, and programs such as the Stop the Stigma campaign at NC State encourages students to seek help by reducing the stigma surrounding mental health treatment through programs as well as peer-to-peer advocacy. Although these campaigns represent a largely positive shift in the conversation surrounding mental health, there are many factors other than stigma which can inhibit students from accessing mental health care.
While NC State does provide free counseling for tuition-paying students, the Counseling Center uses short-term therapy and other types of therapy, offering limited sessions per semester. While this may work for many students, it may also not be effective for students with more severe mental health concerns, multiple concerns to be addressed or dual diagnoses. This speaks to one of the major problems with the phrase “go get help.” A student might be getting help, but it may not be frequent or intensive enough to meet their needs. While getting help is often the first step in the journey, the truth is that even if someone has chosen to reach out to a mental health professional, this does not necessarily ensure they will be getting the appropriate care, and that is assuming the student can access care at all.
According to Thervo.com, therapy can cost up to $250 for an hour-long session. Even with insurance, one still has to find a therapist within their network, and this does not take into consideration the cost of copays, deductibles and premiums. This creates a difficult situation for students, as those without outside insurance may face significant limitations when searching for a therapist in addition to transportation difficulties and the challenge of fitting in appointments around school, work and other extracurricular activities.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with showing concern for others, and in fact, NC State has a way for students to report concerning behaviors they notice among peers. I would suggest that students direct their friends and classmates to this resource when they notice some form of concerning behavior, as it provides a concrete, tangible way for them to get the help they need. However, telling people that overcoming stigma is the greatest barrier to receiving mental health services is not only inaccurate, it assumes that we are in a world where everyone has the ability to access affordable healthcare that meets their psychological, medical and emotional needs, and unfortunately, that is just not the case.
While the idea of eliminating stigma is admirable, and I am not suggesting we stop encouraging people to reach out when they are in need, we should be more considerate of the multiple factors that play into a person’s ability to access appropriate care and recognize that reducing stigma is only a small part of the problem.