Since 1990, the first week in October has been designated Mental Health Awareness Week by the United States Congress. In the wake of the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, the discussion of treating mental illness hits closer to home.
Christopher Harper-Mercer entered his writing class and opened fire, killing his instructor and eight of his classmates. The same incident could unfold at any time in a writing class in Poucher, a chemistry class in Shineman or a history class in Mahar. The time to treat mental illness is now.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 62 million Americans deal with the effects of mental illness. Major mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are burdens carried by 14 million Americans. Yet, as reported in The Oswegonian on Sept. 25, the Counseling Services Center in Mary Walker Health Center is currently short staffed. This is not a truth students should have to accept.
The waiting list for requesting help from the Counseling Services Center can reach 25 students at a time, according Pam Branshaw-Drumm, interim director of Mary Walker Health Center in The Oswegonian article. Branshaw Drumm also said the wait for students in two weeks for their first appointment. In fact, the wait can reach five weeks. The escalation in a student’s battle with mental illness is frightening to imagine.
This is not to suggest that all students struggling with mental illness will turn into mass shooters if untreated, but the risk is there. College campuses are far from protected from mass shooting. Umpqua Community College is joined by incidents such as the Seung-Hui Cho killing 32 on the campus of Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 that can happen on any given day.
The work being done by the college this week to help students with stress is admirable. Events such as balloon art therapy and the Jungle Jam and Clean Slate Living concert are both fun and useful options for students, on top of recurring options like the ‘Let’s Talk’ program, but more must be done. The work must be done in counseling sessions.
According to Branshaw-Drumm, the Counseling Services Center was set to hire some part-time counselors by this week. This is a step in the right direction, but its time for the college to allocate funds to expanding counseling services.