You are a senior in college, and all of a sudden a nervous breakdown takes you by surprise. What do you do? Where do you go for help?

Like many universities, Fairfield has been working to provide services for such students.

“The academic and social stresses of college are more intense than in high school,” said Elise Harrison, assistant director of Fairfield University’s Counseling Services. “These stresses occur when a student leaves the support and guidance of parents. They are more likely to experiment with drugs during college. Competition in college tends to increase. There is less structure. Often, students are sleep deprived and may not be eating in healthy ways.”

Efforts are being made by Fairfield University’s School of Nursing and the Counseling Services to bring the National Alliance on Mental Illness to campus. NAMI on Campus affiliates are student-run and student-based organizations that provide mental health support, education and advocacy in a university or college setting.

With the leadership of college students, the group is designed to engage and educate campus communities about an issue that warrants serious attention: mental illness. NAMI on Campus’s main mission is to educate, provide information and resources, promote early detection and intervention, and combat the stigma regarding mental illnesses. It also serves to end the seclusion of mentally ill students, promote existing mental health services and advocate for enhanced support and counseling services on campus.

“The purpose of NAMI on Campus is to meet the needs of the students at a vulnerable time in their lives, break the stigma against mental illnesses and to support and educate students on the Fairfield University campus,” said Joyce Shea, adjunct professor in the School of Nursing. “However, the specific goals are up to the students.”

The most common problems faced by college students are depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder.

“Lack of sleep can be a precipitating factor in the development of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder,” Shea said. “Homesickness and social pressures may contribute to low self-esteem and feelings of loneliness.”

Since most mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances or other physiological causes, mental illnesses should be treated like any other disease.

“Research shows that mental illnesses are linked to chemical imbalances or other functional problems that interfere with the brain’s normal processes. These are real diseases,” said Betsy-Anne Entwisle, president of NAMI-Fairfield.

NAMI National is the nation’s largest grassroots health organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with serious mental illnesses and their families. NAMI was founded in 1979, and now has more than 220,000 individual members working through more than 1,000 local and state affiliates. NAMI affiliates provide support and education to consumers, or the individuals with the brain disorders, family members, professionals and the public through different educational programs.

Insurance reform, advocacy for better services, treatment and protection of rights, homelessness and housing, children and aging adult issues, Medicaid and Medicare funding, stigma and discrimination, employment and decriminalization are also addressed.

There will be an open meeting after spring vacation for those interested in beginning NAMI on Campus here at Fairfield University. Five students are needed to sign a charter to become an official group. The goal is to have NAMI on Campus fully operational by next fall.

Mental illnesses are a serious issue and need to be treated like any other illness, according to Jeanne DiMuzio, director of Wellness and Prevention.

“Mental health needs to be embraced as any other illness,” she said. “If a person has diabetes they take meds, change their diet, exercise more and seek expert consultation to manage their illness. The same is true of mental illness. If a brain disorder is diagnosed, they make take meds, change their lifestyle, and seek expert consultation so that they can move forward.”

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