Top 4 things I’ve learned about mental health this semester

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Photo: Randy Paulson

After spending this whole semester talking about mental health, both as an intern for Iowa’s National Alliance on Mental Illness and for my mobile and social media class, I thought I’d share four important things I’ve learned about mental health during the past few months:

1. Changing laws is only one part of changing the mental health conversation
Last month, Iowa passed sweeping mental health reform legislation into law. If fully implemented, I believe these laws have the potential to change Iowa’s mental health care system for the better and provide better treatment options for Iowans.

However, new laws won’t necessarily mean that everyone will suddenly change the way  they think about mental illness; the stigma will likely persist. Therefore, it’s imperative that we continue the conversation about mental health and illness in order make it a topic people don’t shy away from.

2. Law enforcement officials are crucial allies
All too often, law enforcement get called to the scene when someone experiences a mental health crisis due to the lack of adequate, community-based mental health centers. While it isn’t ideal, law enforcement officers have begun to play an important role in helping people who suffer such a crisis.

3. Young people are the future of mental health advocacy
For an article I’m writing at NAMI Iowa, I recently reached out to several student organizations at different colleges in Iowa that are dedicated to advocating for students’ mental health. The main organization, Active Minds, has different local chapters at places like University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Luther College and also right here at Simpson College.

Since mental illness affects approximately one out of four college students, these groups are motivated bring mental health into the public consciousness in order to make it a topic people care about and feel comfortable discussing.

4.  Social media is SO bad for your mental health
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it until I’m proven wrong: Excessive use of social media can wreak havoc on your mental well-being. As someone who is on social media a lot as a budding 21st century journalist, I can also personally confirm this.

Aside from the ever-present danger of coming across erroneous information that’s passed off as fact (i.e. the sensational, false news articles and advertising on display during the lead up to Nov. 8, 2016), staring in front of a screen for so long and keeping up with several notifications throughout the day is also just mentally exhausting.

While I realize social media has its uses, I believe the best way to use it is with caution and only as needed. Given how distracting and addictive social media can be (especially when a new meme becomes popular or people are talking about the latest breaking news), I know restraint can be difficult. But by limiting our social media intake, I think we’d all do our mental health a huge favor.


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