One of the biggest issues facing young people, particularly college students, today is mental health. Counseling centers on campuses throughout the country are reporting dramatic increases in demands for their services. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from all other illnesses combined.
Experts say that two of the most effective tactics in preventing suicide and getting help for people suffering from mental health concerns are raising awareness and reducing stigma. Schools nationwide are trying to figure out how to get these messages out to their students. Student media outlets are uniquely positioned to support these efforts.
It is the responsibility of student media outlets to incorporate mental health matters into their programming. There are any number of ways this can be done, ranging from simply running PSAs to news coverage to offering regular airtime to your campus’s counseling center or other campus groups tackling these issues.
There are also more creative and impactful ways to pitch in. If you’re a music station, why not do a series on musicians who have dealt with mental health challenges (Elliott Smith, Syd Barrett, etc.), tagged with a list of resources available in your area? Or host a benefit concert for local mental health organizations.
While this might not sound like a “fit” with your normal programming, your audience is, or is close to people who are, dealing with mental health issues. They will be receptive to the topic.
Finally, don’t forget that it’s likely that some of your staff members are struggling with these same challenges. Working in the media is very demanding, and student media participants have to juggle that with classes and, in many cases, other jobs. That can lead to stress and anxiety, among other problems.
If you’re a student leader or adviser, please be sensitive to this. Raise awareness: Consider including self-care in your training process for student leaders. Watch for warning signs (which include withdrawal, anxiety, changes in eating/sleeping patterns, loss of interest) and be prepared to direct students to resources on your campus. Examine your messaging: Are you placing unreasonable expectations and demands on already stressed-out students? Above all, make sure students know that they can count on you for support.
Student media should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.