As Mental Health Issues Rise at UVa, Students Take Action

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February 24, 2014

Mental illness is a growing problem across college campuses and the University of Virginia isn't immune. The number of students reporting mental health issues has gone up dramatically over the past decade.

"There are more people coming here who need more mental health support and in some cases, pretty intensive mental health support," said Dr. Tim Davis, the director of counseling and psychological services at UVa. "They can be here and be successful, but that populations wasn't here 20 years ago."

According to the latest Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, seventy percent of directors believe that the number of students with severe psychological problems on their campus has increased in the past year and ninety-five percent said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern in their center or on campus.

Ann-Sophie Kaemmerle is one of the thousands of students coping with a mental health issue. As a third year at UVa, Kaemmerle says it's taken her a long time to learn how to deal with her sometimes debilitating depression.

"It kind of hits you like a truck and you don't really know what to do," she said. "You feel lost, you feel a little bit alone. That's what we try to offer, is resources and people who understand and people who want to help."

Kaemmerle and a few dozen other students make up the UVa chapter of Active Minds, a national organization focused on mental health on college campuses. Chapter President, George Knaysi got involved after a family member committed suicide shortly after graduating college. Knaysi said he realized there was not enough emphasis on mental health on college campuses. He said many students don't realize what services are available to them when it comes to mental health.

"Students have actually already paid for a lot of these resources but whether they don't know these resources exist or are too scared to go, they a lot of times end up not utilizing them." Knaysi, Kaemmerle, and the rest of the students involved with Active Minds are working to change the attitude surrounding mental health, encouraging fellow students to reach out for help.

A staff of counselors and psychologists offer services through the student health center, but the stigma attached to mental health prevents many students from taking advantage.

"It does get in the way of a lot of students who could benefit from the really good counseling and psychiatric services we provide here from actually coming in and utilizing it," Davis said.

A group of students called the Young Legislators of Tomorrow have brought the issue to the attention of lawmakers in Richmond, introducing a bill that would require universities to provide more information about the services available to their students.

"Mental health is something that appeals to the common humanity of people on both sides of the aisle," said Patrick MacDonnell, a member of the group who helped draft the legislation. "Republicans and democrats understand that we have a mental health crisis in this country and this state. I think both sides, no matter how ideologically divided you are, can understand we have to do something about it. That's what House Bill 206 is trying to do."

The legislation passed the House 99-0 earlier this month and is currently in the Education Subcommittee in the Senate.

Member of Active Minds agree it's a step in the right direction. "It's an important step and we definitely need it because honestly we don't have anything like that right now," Knaysi said.

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