Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day for engaging in healthy dialogue surrounding mental illness and personal well-being. 

This day commemorates the normalization of mental health discussions, which are frequently taboo topics in culture. Dr. Kimberly Rios, an associate professor of psychology, said mental illness is typically utilized as a form of discrimination against groups of people. 

“For a lot of people, mental illness is important and a very salient social identity to them,” Rios said. “However, it’s still socially acceptable to express negative opinions about somebody because of mental health issues, or to express concerns about hiring a person or accepting them into a degree program because of some sort of mental illness issue.”

Ana Aguilar, a graduate student studying osteopathic medicine, is the president of Health and Wellness club, a group that actively seeks to promote healthy mindsets for medical students. Aguilar expressed that the discrimination toward individuals with mental illnesses is widely due to the societal perception of mental health as controllable, and that its severity deviates from physical confinements. 

“In our culture, mental health is not viewed the same as a physical disability,” Aguilar said. “You can see a physical disability and you can see how it affects people. But with mental health, people assume that it’s all in someone’s head or that they’re doing it for attention.”

Dr. Jean Forney, assistant professor of psychology, believes that the presence of mental illness is significantly prominent within college students. 

“College students have a lot of stress because there’s so much uncertainty,” Forney said. “This lack of awareness of what’s to come combined with the transition to being more independent, makes it a time where a lot of mental health concerns can emerge.”

Despite the prevalent stress present in the lives of college students, Forney suggests that there are simple modifications students can make to improve their outlook. 

“I think the four biggest things you can do to maintain a healthy mindset are to eat well, sleep well, exercise and cultivate your social network,” Forney said. 

Aguilar has learned through her studies the importance of balance, which she said greatly contributes to how students can view their mental health, and how influential it is to their overall well-being. 

“In osteopathic medicine we focus on three tiers: mental, physical and biochemistry,” Aguilar said. “If one of those tiers is out of place, you can’t be the best version of yourself. If you’re suffering from depression, you could be a danger to yourself or others, but most importantly, you’re not living the life that you deserve at the end of the day.”

Rios notes that the increased overall education of mental health can help to extract the preconceived notions and stigmas surrounding the topic, and instead offer awareness. 

“The misperceptions that society has upheld tend to foster more stigmatization of mental health issues,” Rios said. “The more we correct these misperceptions and the more we bring collective concerns surrounding mental health out in the open, maybe the less it will become stigmatized over time.”

Recently, Rios has noticed these misperceptions have slightly minimized, which she has seen through student interaction and lifestyle choices. 

“I think for students, normalizing open discussions of mental health issues, either in classrooms or among peers, is helpful,” Rios said. “For example, I’m seeing a lot more students with emotional support animals on campus and I think that that’s a really wonderful thing that these sorts of issues and processes are becoming more public, because others with the same issues might feel more comfortable getting help.”

Rios expressed that the difference in the recent decade regarding discussions of mental illness, including the existence of World Mental Health Day, shows that progress has been made. 

“I’m already seeing a lot of differences between how mental health is talked about or addressed now versus back when I was in college,” Rios said. “We didn't even discuss it. I think it’s very beneficial for students now that this is coming more to the forefront and that we have things like Mental Health Day.”