The Fight Against Stigma

How Mason is Working to Destigmatize Mental Health


Fourth Estate / Alexandria McAlpine

Schizo. Bipolar. Psychotic. These are the words nonchalantly thrown around college campuses, characterized by stigma and dripping with negative connotation. 

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses sometimes go untreated on college campuses. In fact, according to students, fear and anxiety about acknowledging their mental health concerns and approaching mental health services remains a major reason for not reaching out.

“I was very hesitant and uncertain to go to Counseling and Psychological Services [CAPS] at first,” said Jade DeVore, a freshman environmental science major who has recently utilized CAPS services. “It still feels as though the mental health community here seems invisible to me, especially with the more stigmatized illnesses.” 

According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, “More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide.” 

Among these statistics, the U.S. National Library of Medicine published an article in 2015 that about 3.2 percent of college students meet the criteria for bipolar disorder, and about 6 percent of the U.S. population is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The article noted, however, that these statistics are not entirely accurate as a large number of cases go unreported and undiagnosed each year. 

By offering services such as CAPS as well as Disability Services, Mason students have the opportunity to reach out for help and receive a variety of resources. 

The U.S. National Library of Medicine reported that “the extent to which schools partner with mental health services has implications for the short-term success of students’ recovery and their future employability,” thus emphasizing the crucial need for a safe, supportive college environment.

“We provide short-term individual and group counseling, one-time workshops on specialized topics, and community education programs (outreach), and academic coaching,” said CAPS director Jennifer Kahler. “These are all designed to enhance students’ personal experience and academic performance.”

In addition to CAPS, students with more severe mental illnesses are able to receive support from Disability Services, as the two work together to provide service and support for students.

“CAPS is often the first point of contact for students experiencing more serious mental health concerns,” Kahler added. “We also encourage students with more serious mental health needs to seek the support of the Office of Disability Services, which we can help coordinate with the student’s permission.”

Disability Services, on the other hand, works particularly with students diagnosed with more stigmatized mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. 

According to their website, Disability Services provides services such as housing, meal plans, interactive and trained faculty members, and even emotional support animals to assist students. Both services function alongside each other to offer support and safety to students dealing with mental health issues.

Kahler cited outreach and a lack of awareness as a gap in their services. “One item that we have received feedback about is that not all Mason students are aware of our services,” Kahler added. 

The implications of stigma and its consequences remain the most crucial aspect of mental health in both outreach and in seeking treatment. Kahler mentioned a few particular ways in which CAPS and Mason are working to destigmatize mental illnesses. 

“First, we provide numerous community education presentations throughout the year to campus groups and organizations,” Kahler said. “Second, we have implemented other services at CAPS that are less traditional in order to help students feel more comfortable coming into CAPS.” 

She cited their accomplishments such as their podcast and movie screening in the Got Health campus event for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, as well as their opening of a Mind Spa to emphasize their push towards universal destigmatizing mental illness. 

“After going to [CAPS], it made me feel like Mason has the potential to be very open and supportive of stigmatized diseases,” DeVore continued. “I feel as though I have an opportunity to grow and blossom as a new student and deal with my anxiety in a healthy manner. If you need help, get help.”