A Change in Structure: Perceptions of Mental Health & Illness at the University
Ander, Erik R. Henning
Mental health and illness on college and university campuses have become major topics of concern in recent years. The following study consists of a qualitative investigation of student and faculty perspectives about mental illness, treatment, and potential future changes at a mid-sized, private university in the United States. Using in-depth, semi-structured interviews, this study attempts to understand how students feel about the current state of services, why past efforts have failed to address the nation-wide rise in rates of student mental illness, and what can be done to improve the state of mental health at the University. The study finds that stigma remains a pertinent issue that influences understandings and care-seeking at the University, and explores how binary views of mental health and illness contribute to problems of stigma. Additionally, this research explores gradients of responsibility, and examines the tensions produced when responsibility is disproportionately placed on students without considering structural influences on health. Lastly, interviewees’ calls for increased communication and transparency between students and administration are described and analyzed. From interviewee accounts and an extensive literature review, this study makes two main claims: 1) in accepting shared responsibility for the mental health of its students, the University will need to ensure student voices are heard and included in the processes of creating structural change to address mental illness on campus, and 2) more qualitative research will need to be done on collegiate and university student mental health. Increasing qualitative research will reinforce the notion that student voices are valuable, and help bring attention to these narratives in making future improvements to address mental illness at the University.