Erase the Stigma

Published: April 17, 2008

In this issue of The Observer, there are several articles dealing with one overarching issue: that of the health resources, both mental and physical, available to Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) students and the issues that cause students to seek out these resources. In Casey Feldman’s article “Mental Illness in College Students,” it is made apparent that now, more than ever, students are facing the kind of pressure and stress that leads them to seek out counseling. As the article states, the number of college students utilizing their schools’ mental health offices doubled between 1990 and 2003. Yet in Ashley Tedesco’s article “Overcoming the Counseling Stigma,” several students acknowledged the fact that there is, despite the increasing numbers of peers seemingly in the same position, a stigma attached to visiting one’s counseling center.

What this matter comes down to is that students facing personal health issues must be made to feel comfortable in seeking out the help they need, without having to worry about the negative association that might be attached to making a visit to one of these offices. Feldman’s article mentions that FCLC’s own Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) center has seen an increase in visiting students in each of the last five years, and when Sarah Landew, a staff psychologist at the office, says that this is due to increasing destigmatization of counseling, she may have a point. Yet, for every student who decides that he or she will visit the counseling center, there is, most likely, another who cannot bring his or her self to do so. While the stigma may not be as great as it once was, it is certainly still there.

So, then, what can we at FCLC do to further decrease this stigma? On one level, there are several things addressed in this issue’s articles that point to potential solutions. As Tedesco’s article states, the counseling center’s location is on the high-traffic second floor of McMahon Hall, and this level of visibility could stand as a factor in a student’s decision to not enter the office to seek help. While room availability is always a problem at FCLC, finding a less visible location for the CPS center could make walking in a much less intimidating act to some students. In addition, the issue of confidentiality and student workers raised in Meaghan Dillon’s article, “Student Worker Breaches Confidentiality,” is one that should be addressed by the school. While giving students on-campus jobs is, of course, usually a positive thing, when it comes to both the counseling and health centers, many FCLC students may not feel entirely comfortable with their peers having access to their private health information. And, in the wake of the confidentiality breach reported by Dillon, these students may be justified in their worries. In order to increase students’ comfort going with going to one of the aforementioned offices to receive treatment or counseling for a personal issue, FCLC should consider hiring outside workers for these receptionist positions.

Beyond these means, though, FCLC could help make the process of visiting these offices more comfortable by establishing programs that ensure students that there are many others going through the same issues they are, be they mental or physical. These kinds of measures could be as simple as offering group counseling sessions to those interested or providing support sessions for students who have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases. While these resources might not appeal to students who feel particularly embarrassed of whatever it is they are dealing with, the average FCLC student may very well be encouraged by the acknowledgement that there are others out there who are looking for the same kind of help.