Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

College Student Stress and Mental Health: Examination of Stigmatic Views on Mental Health Counseling

Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

College Student Stress and Mental Health: Examination of Stigmatic Views on Mental Health Counseling

Article excerpt


The prevalence of mental health problems among the college student population is on the rise, yet prior research suggests that a majority of students who experience psychological stress do not seek mental health counseling (Dixon and Kurpius 2008; Gallagher 2008; Kitzrow 2003; Rosenthal and Wilson 2008; Yorgason et al. 2008). However, social support and interpersonal coping skills may allow some students to adapt to college better than others. Psychological stress is one of the mental health issues that students experience after entering college, although an increasing proportion report experiencing psychological distress prior to college entry. Given that stress among college students may result in increased mental health problems, combined with the persistently low rates of participation among college counseling centers across the United States, the need for further research is warranted. Mental health counseling includes on-campus services, public mental health services, and private mental health services in this study. The term "mental health literacy" collectively refers to research in this area. Programs such as Mental Health First Aid emphasize national level models that provide training and certification to improve knowledge about mental health. Some of the trainings are actually college level courses on mental health literacy. The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of college students' attitudes on mental health counseling service-use through the lens of stigmatic theory.

Understanding students' stigmatic levels was essential in predicting their use of counseling services, since greater levels of stigma were associated with lower counseling service use (Britt et al. 2008; Cook 2007; Yorgason 2008). Stressors such as academic stress and perceived stress could affect students' use of counseling services, thus this research controlled for academic stress and perceived stress. Various other factors can play a role in students' use or non-use of counseling services. Adaptive coping, use of emotional support, use of instrumental support, positive reframing, planning, acceptance, humor, and religion are adaptive coping methods, while self-distraction, denial, substance use, behavioral disengagement, venting, and self-blame are maladaptive coping methods (Schottenbauer et al. 2006). Adaptive coping, self-esteem, academic self-efficacy, and social support may increase one's use while other factors may play a role in decreasing usage (Bagley and King 2005; Broidy and Agnew 1997; Carver 1997; Kelly et al. 2007; Pritchard and Wilson 2006; Zajacova et al. 2005). Hence, this research examined depression and maladaptive coping methods that could result in a lower likelihood of using counseling services (Britt et al. 2008; Carver 1997; Kelly et al. 2007; Pritchard and Wilson 2006). These factors were associated with students' use of mental health counseling services and this research controlled for their effects.

Stigma theory guided our analysis. The effect of stigma on individuals with mental illnesses has been a long standing problem in society (Hinshaw 2005; Link and Phelan 2001; Tanaka 2003; Tsang et al. 2007). Stigma is a social factor affecting the use of professional mental health counseling (Tsang et al. 2007). The underutilization of counseling services may be affected by the perceived stigma attached to the use of counseling (Britt et al. 2008; Cook 2007; Yorgason 2008).

Link and Phelan (2001) noted that stigma was associated with a label that can operate concurrently with a stereotype. Mental illness is thought to carry a blemish or imperfection that society somehow negatively associates with the individual (Link and Phelan 2001). Historically, individuals with mental illnesses were seen as the equivalent of demon possessed, thereby further diminished in the eyes of society (Hinshaw 2005; Tsang et al. 2007).

The media has played a large role in reporting negative aspects of mental illness, such as criminality, drug and alcohol use, and addiction (Sharp et al. …

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