The View from the Sidelines
by Karina Le | published Feb. 4th, 2019
Whether it is always taken seriously or not, many people acknowledge that mental illness is a problem. But people who need help sometimes struggle with taking the first step towards recovery. This is especially true for marginalized communities. Groups that often face discrimination frequently have to deal with dual stigma. This means they are not only stigmatized for their mental illness, but also their identity.
Many people within marginalized communities also grow up in cultures or environments where mental health is rarely discussed in a positive light — if it's spoken about at all. For misinformed students, their stigma on mental illness can negatively affect how they handle stress in college.
The LGBTQ+ Community
For many LGBTQ+ students, one of the biggest contributors to their mental distress is the negative perception of their identity. There is a fear that after coming out, their parents will reject them.
Henry Farr, president of OUTspoken and second year Computational Math and Computer Science major, noted this struggle.
“In the LGBTQ community, mental health — like other things — tends to be more impactful,” Farr said. “Some [transgender] students I’ve spoken to personally cannot seek treatment with their parents’ knowledge, because [the parents] might find out about their identity and then disown them, or otherwise won’t support them in their efforts to become better.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, a grassroots organization that educates on and advocates for mental health, found that LGBTQ+ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition. With the added occurrence of dual stigmatization, it can be difficult to ask for help when experiencing these issues.
For students who come from households that aren't accepting, there can be detrimental consequences to both their home life and mental health.
"When I first came out, my mother cried," Ryan Roy, vice president of OUTspoken and third year ASL Interpreting Education major, said. "A lot of people have to worry about whether or not they're gonna get kicked out of their house, whether or not their family is going to disown them, you know? Is your mom going to cry? Is it going to take years for them to accept a part of yourself that took you years to accept?"
"A lot of people have to worry about whether or not they're gonna get kicked out of their house, whether or not their family is going to disown them, you know?"
In the LGBTQ+ community, these worries are common and can further complicate the struggles of mental illness.
In reaction to this, Roy discussed the need for more representation in RIT services, including Counseling and Psychological Services. Many students find it more comforting to talk to people that can empathize with their struggles. This is the same with other marginalized communities.
The Deaf Community
Beyond the city of Rochester, the Deaf community tends to be hidden in the shadows. It makes up about 0.38 percent of the U.S. population. Because of that, there are few studies on how mental illness impacts hard of hearing or deaf individuals. In The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, the collective authors concluded that deaf individuals have a certain vulnerability towards mental illness. Though they didn't know concrete causes for this trend, it's important to know that the trend is there.
President of NTID’s Student Congress and fifth year Applied Arts and Science major through SOIS, Taylor Repetski, explained mental health in RIT's Deaf community in a simple manner.
“Though I can’t really speak for the entire Deaf community, I want to emphasize that every person is different,” said Reptski. “We’re all human. We all have our issues ... And we try to get services to help with it.”
However, finding the right services for deaf and hard of hearing students is difficult, Repetski described.
“The counseling services only have two counselors that know sign,” Reptski began. “They’re pretty much available for both deaf and hearing students, which is nice ... if [those counselors] aren’t available, the student gets another counselor with an interpreter.”
However, the additional steps to request an interpreter or inability to communicate directly in ASL — if that is the individual's communication preference — can be a barrier for easy mental health services access.
People of Color
Among racial minorities, mental health is often considered a taboo subject, which leads to lots of misinformation. A possible reason as to why some people of color may be more uninformed on the topic can be found in a study by the Mental Health American (MHA) organization.
“Knowledge of the mental health needs and attitudes of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders regarding mental illness is limited. Few epidemiological studies have included Asian Americans or people whose English is limited,” reported MHA.
Carlos Villegas, vice president of ALANA Collegiate Association and fourth year Business major, is familiar with the stigma of mental illness.
“I remember as a child, my mom would just tell me that [mental illness] would just happen to white people. But that’s definitely not the case, and it took me a while to realize that,” Villegas said.
“I remember as a child, my mom would just tell me that [mental illness] would just happen to white people. But that’s definitely not the case, and it took me a while to realize that.”
The struggle for racial minorities is partly trying to unlearn the shame tied to mental health that they were raised with. There is still much to improve on the way the community handles mental health, Villegas believes.
"In the past few years, [the community] has been doing a good job in spreading awareness to it," he said. "But right now we're a little stagnant ... Though we're learning about [mental illness] and we're acknowledging that it exists, we're not taking those further steps to making sure our friends are okay."
Ultimately, this trend of acknowledging mental illness is a step in the right direction. However, individuals need to actively move to help themselves, and the people around them, to get the help they may need.
The First Step
Looking at mental health from a marginalized perspective is important for normalizing discussion and advocating for proper treatment. For those who are hesitant to go directly to a mental health professional, finding a person who has experienced the same difficulties is helpful in unlearning the stigma of mental illness and can be the first step to getting the help they need.