October 28, 2016

Students Share Concerns About Mental Health Awareness at S.A. Forum

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The Student Assembly hosted an open forum on mental health policies, resources and programs following its Thursday meeting, in response to issues students brought forward regarding the mental health community at Cornell.

Students expressed concern that Cornellians are not aware of the help available to those struggling with mental health issues on campus, proposing various promotional strategies for more effective community outreach.

Current information on campus does not “bridge the gap” of communicating what resources are available and how students can actually access them, according to Hanna Reichel ’17.

Alexander Iglesias ’17 proposed adding a mental health requirement to orientation for new students, adding that resources should be listed on faculty syllabi to increase exposure around campus.

“I’d like to see Cornell start backing policies and programs that normalize the idea of mental health on campus,” said Alex Costa ’18. “We do a great job of making sure that resources are available for students already seeking treatment for a mental illness, but little is done to help prevent these students from ever developing the illness in the first place.”

The conversation on mental illness needs to extend beyond academic stress to more “unrecognized” issues such as alcohol abuse and eating disorders, attendees also said.

“These are issues that a lot of people do not anticipate would happen to them,” Reichel said. “They materialize in the University environment, and it is important to provide a space to address these issues.”

Students also addressed the disparity between the faculty and administration’s knowledge of students’ mental health, pointing out that professors can be skeptical of students’ struggles.

“I think the one thing that is really challenging with the issue of faculty is that there are a fair number of students that have long-term mental health issues — who either struggle to obtain certain accommodations or who have accommodations — but whose professors sometimes question legitimacy of why they need them,” said Jonathan Goldstein ’17.

Goldstein went on to critique the lack of staff who, instead of supporting students with mental health issues, “interrogate into these people’s situations.”

In addition to better advocacy at Cornell, mental health should also be normalized in the education system at “every stage” to combat any problem more promptly, according to Costa.

“Mental health is no different from physical health in that it’s something everyone needs to maintain on a daily basis.” he said.

At the forum’s conclusion, Iglesias emphasized the importance of creating more inclusive conversation on the issue across campus.

“The S. A. Health and Wellness Committee wants to take a more active role in having a conversation about bettering the Cornell community pertaining to health and wellness,” Iglesias said. “We want everyone to get involved, and we want to continue to have these conversations.”