Mental Health Awareness Week combats stigma surrounding mental illness

Anna Ciummo

Every year, Mental Health Awareness week is held Oct. 4-10 to support the millions of people battling with conditions such as depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and more.

Although the public is becoming more aware of mental illnesses, there are still ways to improve our mindset.

Tiffany McManis, nurse practitioner at Washburn University’s Health Services Clinic, said, “There are so many stigmas that come along with mental health diagnoses of every kind.”

Showing stigma towards a patient with mental illness often implies that they are less of a person or weak which McManis said is simply not true.

According to the Natioinal Alliance on Mental Illness, studies show that stigma, or a negative bias towards a person because of a condition or diagnosis, is particularly harmful and often prolongs a patient’s healing process. Treating a patient carelessly leads that patient to become more stressed, unhappy, or even suicidal.

Mental Health Awareness Week has a theme for each year, and this year’s theme is “I Am Stigma Free.” The theme pledges to accept every person as a unique individual, and not to identify them by their diagnosis.

“I hope this theme works,” McManis said. “Unfortunately a lot of us as humans have certain biases in our ideas and beliefs, but that doesn’t mean those beliefs are right. It’s hard to know what people have been through. Let’s take a step back to ask ourselves why we are condemning someone for their condition.”

Taylor Dougherty, freshman criminal justice major, is open to sharing about her anxiety.

“I’m not necessarily proud of my anxiety,” Dougherty said. “But I accept it as a part of who I am. If you let someone stigmatize you, they will. Being open about your own anxiety is one way you can prevent stigma.”

Although the college experience can be fun, it also causes students to become more prone to developing a mental illness.

“I’ve talked with students that have never been away from home or on their own before, so it is easy to get overwhelmed and stressed,” McManis said. “You’re in a new place, meeting new people, and doing new things. It’s a lot to take in.”

However, the free counseling services at Washburn University are something a student should take advantage of. McManis said that many people requiring treatment are unable to get it because of costly health services. However, students can receive access to treatment through WU Counseling Services.

Dougherty has attended student counseling and says it has given her hope.

“It’s nice that I can go there and not feel alone,” Dougherty said.

There are also various organizations and groups that work together to promote recognition for mental illnesses. Student organizations such as Washburn’s chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms also exist to help support patients through mutual understanding and caring.

There are a lot of steps to recovering from a mental illness, but one of the ways that makes the path easier is through a supportive community, McManis said. Recognition of depression and suicide is growing every day. Even television and other media contribute to raising awareness.

McManis pointed out that the recent suicides of Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman struck a chord with many people, and exposed the severity of these conditions. She said that by supporting one another, we can show individuals with mental illnesses that they are not alone and recovery really is possible.

Students looking for more information on mental illness may contact WU Counseling Services and WU Health Services Clinic at (785) 670-1470, both are located in Morgan 140. For those interested in taking the “I Am Stigma Free” pledge, visit