“Many Voices, One Mind”

I attended the conference “Many Voices, One Mind” at USC yesterday, the topic of which was mental health services in colleges and universities.  I heard some moving, inspiring and thought-provoking stories about how students diagnosed with disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar and major depressive disorder had managed to go to college, law school, medical school; what kind of help they had needed; what stigmas they feared and faced, even in coming forward at this conference, even walking into a counseling center; how much stress “intersectionality” (belonging to more than one ethnic group, etc.) could add to students’ already overcommitted lives; the importance of social and financial support (including decent insurance) all the way down the line; the newest statistics about how many people in this country will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetimes (over 50% now).  I loved the idea that educational institutions should be committed to helping the mind thrive in as many different ways as possible; I’ve always thought that we should go the distance and think about how we could make the experience of political, social and economic community actively therapeutic rather than (as it seems to me now) careless of the experience of individual minds and the networks of influence they engage with.  But I wish the conference had talked more about the bottom line of resources. At this sad moment in American history when education is being cheapened and de-funded all over the place, isn’t a big part of the stress students are under economic?  Rapid rises in tuition, debt piling up, having to work more hours, facing a terrible job market?  Isn’t requiring students to take so many courses at once stretching them too then and preventing them from paying deep attention to their subjects?  One last question for now:  is mental illness a disability that should be accommodated like any other (extra time on exams, etc.)?  I really don’t know how I feel about this last point.  I’m uncomfortable with framing mental illness as disability, but not sure why–got to think about it more.  Any thoughts out there? 

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