At least, that’s what UNC professors and mental health professionals said in a panel discussion Monday.
“The stigma of a mental health diagnosis lowers self-esteem, contributes to disrupted family relationships and it certainly negatively impacts individuals’ ability to socialize, find housing and secure employment,” said Maureen Windle, associate director and clinical director of Counseling and Psychological Services.
At UNC, only seven percent of students reported they think less of person who has received mental health treatment, but 50 percent of students thought that most people do, according to the 2014 Healthy Minds Study led by the University of Michigan.
“The shame means that people with a diagnosis don’t go for treatment,” said Deby Dihoff, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in North Carolina.
Shelby Dawkins-Law, a second-year Ph.D. student and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, told the panel about how disclosing a mental health diagnosis can impact students academically.
“It’s not uncommon for someone to say ‘maybe this isn’t the program for you,’” she said, contrasting the treatment of students with physical handicaps with that of students who have had a mental health diagnosis.
Windle said UNC is ahead of the curve on supporting students with mental health issues.
“I am not aware of any other college or university that has funding to support students’ out-of-pocket costs for treatment,” she said. Windle said students referred to outside specialists are eligible for aid from the University to pay for these treatments.
Properly treating mental health in conjunction with other conditions decreases length of stay and reduces hospital readmissions, said Dr. Bruce Cairns, faculty chairman and director of the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center.
Dihoff also talked about the state of mental treatment in prison, saying that punitive solitary confinement of inmates with mental health issues is especially inappropriate.
“It is the worst kind of torture for someone with a mental illness,” she said.
In March, a mentally ill inmate in the care of the N.C. Department of Public Safety died of dehydration after being held in solitary confinement for 35 days. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the episode.
Speakers also brought up the threat of involuntary commitment.
“Anyone for any reason can call a magistrate and say (someone) needs to be hospitalized, and they will be hospitalized and won’t see a judge for 10 days,” said Martha Brock, an advocate for individuals with disabilities.