New campus resources seek to lift mental health stigma

Chance Swaim

Each morning, Caitlin Langdon felt like she was being pinned to her mattress by a lead blanket.

Langdon could get out of bed, but it took effort, and every day it became more difficult.

“That’s not how a 15-year-old should feel,” said Langdon, who is now studying psychology with a minor in art at Wichita State.

Between her freshman and sophomore year of high school, seven people close to Langdon died. She said after a while she started to harden, and stopped feeling or reacting to her friends’ deaths.

She said her increasing sadness developed into full-blown depression that year after asking a boy on a date who said he would never date anyone “like her.”

“I opened up my pill cabinet, and I was looking at it,” she said. “I stared at it for an hour. I was debating whether I wanted to take a handful of pills and kill myself.”

Langdon knew she needed help, but she couldn’t make herself ask for it.

“One of the primary symptoms of depression is apathy,” said Mark Green, a psychologist and prevention specialist for Wichita State’s Counseling and Testing Center. “And that makes seeking help tremendously difficult.”

Green leads monthly mental health first aid workshops at WSU to help people recognize and respond to mental health challenges.

“In concept, it’s very similar to physical first aid training,” Green said. “We’re not training anybody to be therapists, but we are training people to recognize some warning signs and how to talk to somebody and help keep them safe and steer them toward professional help.”

Langdon said her mother noticed the warning signs and took her to a therapist. She was diagnosed with mental depressive disorder.

If it weren’t for her mother’s intervention and her strong connection with her therapist and loyal friends, Langdon said she wouldn’t be here today.

“That’s one of the tricky things about doing prevention work,” Green said. “There’s no way to measure what would have happened had there not been an intervention.

“I think there is still some stigma about seeking help. People think it means you’re crazy if you go to a therapist — that it’s a sign of weakness or a sign that you’re broken somehow.

“But that’s not the case,” Green said. “It’s just part of the human experience. It’s like a cold.”

Not only are mental health challenges normal, Green said, but treatment is helpful. One of the goals of his training sessions is raising awareness that mental health challenges are normal.

According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults in America experience mental illness in any given year, and only 41 percent of people with mental illness use mental health services. The average time that passes before a person seeks help after realizing they have a mental illness is 10 years.

Langdon said the key to identifying mental illness early is to talk about your feelings with other people.

“It could be my neighbor,” Langdon said. “It could be my best friend that doesn’t talk about it. People just don’t talk about it — that’s the problem. There are so many people who have this issue that don’t talk about it.”

“If people know it’s going on — how you’re feeling — it’s not going to be such a big issue,” she said. “Tell a teacher, tell a parent, tell a friend, tell a counselor, tell someone.”

Green said he hopes the mental health workshop and the website will help erase some of the stigma surrounding mental health challenges.

“You wouldn’t be embarrassed to go see the doctor if you had the flu to make sure its not something more serious,” Green said. “That’s all we’re asking people to do if they are having some trouble — to see if it is more serious or if it’s OK.”