Community Voices: Youth not immune from mental health problems

This piece is part of an occasional series from being808 in which community members share their viewpoints on a health topic of interest. Continue the conversation! Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

This fall, thousands of Hawaii youth will head off to colleges locally and on the Mainland. And many won’t be thinking about their mental health.

But they should be.

student 1Mental health problems do not magically go away in college. In fact, they may emerge or be magnified because of heightened stress or new surroundings.

An alarming one in four college students suffer from some form of mental illness, including depression.

College students are at a very vulnerable point in their lives, and the college years are when some of the most severe mental illnesses strike – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.

But the stigma and shame of mental illness – based on fear and lack of knowledge — oftentimes prevent people from getting treatment.

And not getting treatment can result in dire consequences.

The longer a mental illness goes undiagnosed, the less likely it is that the person will recover.

Untreated mental illness can result in suicide or acts of violence. (Suicide is the second leading cause of death of college students. If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

College students who are suicidal are quiet, reserved, and socially isolated – and thus the least likely to get noticed and helped.

To ensure college students are getting the help they need, college campuses must offer robust mental health programs for students.

But not all do.

Nationally, community colleges have one mental health counselor for every 1,600 students. Community colleges on Oahu have an even lower counselor-to-student ratio, an informal survey by Mental Health of America of Hawaii found.

If we are to prevent severe lifelong mental illnesses, reduce rates of suicide and depression, and protect campuses from violence, we must raise awareness of the vulnerability of young people who are in need of help and compel their colleges to put in place programs that address mental health and mental wellness.

College is a place where we shape young brains by imparting knowledge. We should also shape them by supporting their mental health.


Marya Grambs is executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, where she has been instrumental in developing such programs as Healing the Trauma of  War, the Invisible Children’s Project, Stop Youth Suicide and Bullying program, and an employment program for homeless female veterans. She advocates in the community and at the Legislature to improve services to people with severe mental illness.  She also lives with mental illness herself, and frequently speaks about her experiences as a way to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

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