Students must be aware of mental health issues, services

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In light of the recent Fort Hood shooting, it is important for students to bolster their knowledge of mental health issues, make sure they are aware of the signs and symptoms in others and know what resources are available to them if needed.

Spc. Ivan Lopez opened fire April 2 at Fort Hood, killing three fellow soldiers and injuring 16 more before committing suicide. At an April 3 press conference at Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, said there is “very strong evidence” that Lopez had medical history  that suggested an unstable mental condition. The gunman was being assessed for possible post-traumatic stress disorder and was receiving treatment for depression and anxiety.

Mass shootings such as the one at Fort Hood have a strong connection to mental health issues. According to a April 2 Mother Jones article, a majority of the 68 mass shootings in the last decade were perpetrated by individuals with signs of mental health issues, many of whom showed obvious signs of distress before committing the crime.

The best way to prevent such tragedies is to be educated on mental health issues in order to recognize signs and symptoms in oneself and others. Once an issue is detected, students can direct themselves or others to the appropriate resources before mental health issues escalate.

Without proper treatment, mental health problems can result in self-harm, suicide or, rarely, violence. According to a University of Washington Mental Health Reporting factsheet, while there is a link between violence and mental health issues, the connection is greatly exaggerated in the mind of the public.

Unfortunately, many mental health issues have stigmas attached to them in American society. Most commonly, apparently depressed or suicidal individuals are seen as attention seeking, weak or violent. Such stereotypes are not only blatantly untrue, they can also prevent people who have mental health issues from seeking the help they need.

Because those with mental health problems may fear others viewing them negatively, they might try to deal with issues on their own. Seeing as many mental health issues are the result of chemical imbalances in the brain rather than easily altered thought processes, this often does not work and may cause mental health issues to worsen, eventually spiraling out of control.

According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, 90 percent of all suicide victims in the United States have a mental disorder such as depression and/or substance abuse issues. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for young adults aged 15 to 24 in 2007. According to suicide.org, suicide is even more prevalent in college students.

It is critical that students understand the risk factors, signs and symptoms of mental health and how to get help. There are numerous resources on campus, in San Marcos and even online that students can utilize to educate themselves as well as to alleviate or treat mental health issues.

Students with severe mental illness in danger of committing suicide can schedule an emergency appointment with the university Counseling Center. The student health center on campus offers psychiatry services and can prescribe drugs such as anti-depressants should they be needed.

There are several support groups for issues such as substance abuse and sexual assault both on campus and in the greater San Marcos area. The Counseling Center offers group sessions for those experiencing mental health issues not imminently threatening their lives. Students who think they may have a mental illness but are not sure can also take a mental health screening on the Counseling Center website to determine whether to seek help or not.

Students who do not wish to speak with someone face to face or who are contemplating suicide but do not have access to any of the above resources can call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Travis county hotline at 472-HELP.