Criminology and Criminal Justice
mental health; stigma; stigmatization; college course; psychology
For years, the importance of mental health has been overlooked. In the past, individuals possessing unstable mental health were not only neglected, but were highly stigmatized. In the 20th century, these individuals were thought to have demonic roots—they were feared. The mentally ill have been institutionalized, deinstitutionalized, and institutionalized yet again. Some progress has been made in changing society’s perceptions and fierce stigmatization of mental health. There are many organizations in place today aimed at increasing awareness and reducing stigmatization, and they have helped, but not nearly enough. Mental health stigmatization has detrimental effects on those that fall victim to it—ridding our society of this cruel stigmatization is long overdue. Stigmatization, especially the long-standing stigmatization of mental health, is not easy to undo. While prior research has shown that contact with mentally ill and mentally unstable individuals, as well as organized protests against mental health stigma, can be effective means of diminishing mental health stigmatization, the most effective means has been education. Research has also shown that over 25% of adults between ages 18 and 24 have a mental illness. This makes many college age individuals vulnerable to mental instability and makes seeking treatment during the college years essential. However, 40% of college students with mental health conditions don’t seek help, often because of stigma. Knowing this information, I’ve decided to create a new college course aimed at contributing to changing this age-old stigmatization of mental health. This proposed course is intended to provide students with a broad overview of the history and development of mental health and mental health stigma, the portrayal of mental health in the media, the significance of mental health in the criminal justice system, and the prevalence of mental health issues and stigma on college campuses. This course is intended to count for major-specific credit for all psychology majors, but also for general education credit, as all university students are encouraged to take the course. The course uniquely entails a project designed to familiarize students with the portrayal of mental health and mental illness in the media. The course also includes a project intended to garner appreciation for highly stigmatized individuals through experiential interaction. I’ve created samples of each portion of the course including a syllabus explicitly detailing the course, a sample lecture about mental health on college campuses, sample exam questions which complement the lecture, and an updated curriculum sheet showing where the course fits into existing curriculum requirements. Should this course be implemented, I hope that it would reduce mental health stigmatization, and normalize seeking help for mental instability, on college campuses.
I designed this new course to be the course I wish I could have taken during my time as an undergraduate student. I tried my best to emphasize the important topics that were not as heavily emphasized in the core psychology courses. I also aimed to make this a course that all students would be interested in taking, regardless of their major. This was of the utmost importance to me because often, those undergraduate students that are psychology majors are already more sensitive, and aware, of mental health and the stigmatization that those with mental illnesses face—it’s the rest of the undergraduate population that could benefit, exponentially, from a course like this. At the end of the day, not enough is being done to combat mental health stigma, especially on college campuses. This is slowly improving, however, and I hope to see more colleges establishing programs and courses, such as this one, to aid in changing the age-old stigmatization of mental health.
Presenting this poster, and a semester’s worth of hard work, at the Honors Conference was an incredible experience. Sharing my project allowed me the opportunity to talk the ear off many interested attendees about my favorite academic topics. It didn't feel, in the least, like I was presenting a project. To me, I was simply sharing my deepest and most passionate interests. The conversations I had also truly exemplified just how much I want to see this course implemented. One of the many individuals I spoke to during the conference was the Chair of the Undergraduate Committee in Psychology, Dr. Patricia Morokoff. She expressed interest in seeing my course implemented as a Grand Challenge course, and I could not be more excited about this possibility.