Mental Health in Academia

butterflies by Vargas
By Eugenio Cruz Vargas. CC by SA 3.0.

I have written about mental health and libraries before, for #LISMentalHealthWeek 2016.  Therein, I wrote about micro-aggressions that those suffering from mental health issues can experience in a library.  Mental health is important to me, so when I saw an article about mental health services in academia, I thought I would write about it.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article called “Stigma, Stress, and Fear: Faculty Mental-Health Services Fall Short” (Emma Pettit).  Pettit’s article notes that while mental health services for university students have increased, universities’ faculty and staff do not see the same support.

In my experience (though I cannot say whether this is true for everyone), academia is receptive – at least – to the idea of individuals dealing with mental health issues.  We understand that students and our coworkers might be going through a mental health crisis, at least in the vaguest sense.  The library workforce (staff, faculty, and volunteers) seem to have a better grasp of mental health issues than other workforces.

But still, yes, academia seeks to help (undergraduate) students dealing with mental health issues – but can ignore the faculty’s, staff’s and (frequently) graduate students’ needs for similar services.  And plenty of students (undergraduate or graduate, traditional or non-traditional) have stories of inadequate mental health services.  For all involved in academia, mental health services are hard to access.

Though academia has these problems (even with a seemingly receptive attitude), I argue that it is not really academia’s problem. Instead this mental healthcare debacle is a problem the world over.  Everywhere people feel stigmatized by their need to take time off, or their supervisor/employer won’t let them have time off for therapy visits or rest days.  They have to wait 3 months to see a psychologist, and even longer to see a psychiatrist.  All therapists within driving distance refuse to accept their patients’ insurance (forcing patients to forego treatment, or pay hefty fees out of pocket).  Professors, students, academic staff, and librarians aren’t the only ones facing these issues – and, depending on the environment they work in, they might not have the added strains of no paid leave.

For mental health services, we in academia should not simply think that our workplaces should be sheltered utopias – and forget that the rest of the world have these same problems.  Instead, we need to focus on changing the entire landscape, not just our campuses.

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