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The Northerner

Open minds, shut case

Ed Brown

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I’ve personally sought out and visited a psychiatrist; get over it. At one time or another in everyone’s life, it would probably be a good idea to see a mental health professional. Offended? You shouldn’t be. Mental health wellness is just as an important a facet of overall health as any other.

As a society, there’s a certain stigma attached to people, especially youth, who visit mental health professionals.

However, those of us who live in reality will probably come to the realization that, at some time or other that it would be beneficial to our health if we visited a professional.

It doesn’t make you “crazy,” “insane,” “disturbed,” or any other negative connotation intended to make someone feel like less of a person.

With this said, I feel personally affected by the limbo of collegiate mental health professional care in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

There’s a fine line to be balanced with respect to invasion of doctor/patient confidentiality. The wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy should raise awareness for “alert” signals nationwide; but not give colleges, potential employers, etc. a free license to invade the most personal depths of someone’s mentality needlessly.

Things like mental illness and traumatic events are unfortunately a part of our lives, and can have a large impact on our functionality as individuals, especially those of us living the stressed-out, fast paced world of college.

Is it really acceptable to attach shame and degradation to someone who seeks the help of a professional when coping with illness or trauma?

Is it really a bad idea to visit a licensed physician if you think something could be wrong, or just to get a professional opinion on the way you feel about something that has been bothering you?

As professionals, doctors already have a civic duty to make certain organizations aware of potential problems with a patient, and the organizations in turn must act in the best way possible given this information to ensure that no harm is done. Growing resources are being made available to the public, but they were there before tragedy.

According to the National Institute of Health’s subdivision of Mental Health: “An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older (around 57 million citizens) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Six percent suffer from a serious mental illness.

Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15 to 44. Forty-five percent of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for two or more disorders. The burden of mental illness on health and productivity in the United States and throughout the world has long been underestimated.

Data developed by the Global Burden of Disease study conducted by the World Health Organization, the World Bank and Harvard University reveal that mental illness, including suicide, accounts for more than 15 percent of the burden of disease in established market economies. This is more than the disease burden caused by all cancers.

I’ll be the first to agree that America deserves the label of an “anti-depressant” nation. I’ll also concur that there are countless examples of anti-depressants being needlessly prescribed or used, even in the presence of a more viable alternative such as a change in diet, exercise or lifestyle.

The mixture of teenagers and anti-depressants is volatile at best, as nature doesn’t seem to intend that teenage emotions be very stable. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who haven’t experienced a new, more well-rounded lifestyle and functionality due to their choice to seek mental health counseling; or that the aforementioned people should be labeled as a threat to society.

Labeling someone as “crazy” because they seek psychotherapy or use prescription medication can be just as stereotypical as judging people’s characters by the color of their skin.

Maybe I’m just “crazy,” but the ideas of death, traumatic experiences and a general misunderstanding about adolescent feelings seem to happen to everyone. If none of these events ever cross paths with your life, you’re one of the lucky few.

Opening private records to universities is a blatant disregard for patient confidentiality, and would act as discouragement for patients in need to see or fully disclose all relevant information to a mental health professional for fear of it affecting future employment or academia.

Because much success in the mental health profession depends on the level of trust between doctor and patient, this delicate balance would likely be hindered by an outside entity of any kind.

Instead of complete open records, my suggestion would be to instead use common sense and: a.) incorporate more mental health awareness and training into adolescent health curriculum, b.) ensure security and awareness is raised on campuses across the nation and c.) place a strong emphasis on doctors and civilians alike reporting an individual’s behavior if he were a real danger to the public.

While the intentions of the “open-records” debates are good, the harm that it could cause many innocent people should not be part of the equation.

It is pathetic that it takes a tragedy like the Virginia Tech massacre to raise the awareness of previously apathetic personalities. If you haven’t done so already, please visit http://www.nku.edu/~hcp/emerguide.htm for more information on recognizing these signs. Your help could save lives.

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
Open minds, shut case