In an effort to shed light on issues of mental health on campus, a number of organizations, including Bowdoin Student Government’s Good Idea Fund, Peer Health and the women’s rugby team sponsored a lecture by nationally renowned mental health advocate Jordan Burnham. The talk, entitled “Stop the Stigma, Start the Conversation,” was held in Kresge Auditorium on Monday. 

MaryBeth Mathews, the head coach of women’s rugby, said that addressing mental health issues is important to both her and her team.

“I used to be a dean here, and I am therefore so passionate about the health and happiness of the students,” said Matthews. “A big feature of the rugby team is that we all look out for each other. I think the best thing we can do to attack the stigma of mental health is simply care for each other and be aware of the signs we need to look for.”

Burnham, who suffers from mental illness himself, works with the organization Active Minds to promote mental health awareness in the United States—particularly among younger generations.

“I felt Burnham was a great choice to come to campus because he is similar in age and experience to Bowdoin students,” said Sam Hoegle ’17, a student who helped organize the event. “We need to make mental health less taboo and more accessible and understandable to students.”

Burnham’s talk focused on the lead up to mental illness and its diagnosis. He told the story of his illness’s progression, mentioning that college can be a big factor in the development of mental illness.

“One in four college students will suffer from mental illness at some point during their education,” he said. “Many people don’t recognize their feelings as part of a bigger problem, but college is full of possible triggers.”

At Bowdoin, the Counseling Services estimates that over a four-year period, approximately 40 to 50 percent of Bowdoin students will seek them out for some level of support or consultation.

“This past year, Counseling Services provided individual psychotherapy and psychiatric services to 27 percent of the student body,” said Bernie Hershberger, director of counseling services. “This does not take into account our group, workshop and retreat offerings.”

There are also multiple students who take medical leave based on mental health. Last year, Counseling Services assisted with 18 mental health related medical leaves. In the 2012-13 school year there were 23 mental health medical leaves.

Nationally, the American Psychological Association found that anxiety is the top-presenting concern among college students (41.6 percent), followed by depression (36.4 percent) and relationship problems (35.8 percent).

Burnham suggested that one of the main causes of mental health issues on campuses is lifestyle-driven.

“When I was younger, it became a competition between friends to see who could survive on the least sleep,” said Burnham. “This, combined with the way students use alcohol to relax, have fun or release inhibitions, is not a healthy lifestyle.” 

Burnham believes that the stigma surrounding mental health is still prevalent on campuses across the country. He explained that many students feel they cannot express their emotions because they fear that their feelings are not justified—even in spite of institutions being in place to support them.

Andrew Cawley ’17 agreed that there is such a taboo. 

“I don’t believe the institution of Bowdoin itself has trouble addressing mental health issues,” he said. “It is easy to feel like you’re the only one feeling upset or emotional. And while on a rational level we know this isn’t the case, we have trouble addressing it.”

Burnham addressed this issue by saying we need to look after ourselves better, take initiative and work through it. 

“You have a responsibility to look after your mental health as you would your physical health,” he said. “Recovery is a long process, but it can only begin after we seek help. Finding the right therapist is half of the struggle.” 

Between the large student attendance and high number of questions posed at the lecture, it became evident that many people on campus are disappointed with the way mental health is viewed at Bowdoin. 

“I think it is so important to promote further discussion within students,” said Cawley. “We want to be closed off from mental illness, but if we let it out and discuss it, hopefully the stigmatization will come to an end.”