Private counselors need not spread mental illness myths

October 27, 2016 — by Amith Galivanche

Discrimination against students with mental illnesses is still a myth.

College applications are stressful. Suffering from mental illness as an adolescent is very stressful. When the two are combined, college counselors come to the rescue, right?

Not quite.

For years, some college counselors have advised applicants to not check the box asking them about mental illness. That way, applicants can avoid colleges from labelling them as “high-risk,” which can allegedly decrease the chances of admission. According to these counselors, universities are wary of accepting liability for any incidents that may occur on campus. (Think self-harm or suicide.)

However, this approach to applicants with past mental illness increases the already-overwhelming stigma against mental illness, promoting an "out of sight out of mind" idea when it comes to mental health issues.

Furthermore, while college counselors advise their students in this manner, no university admissions officers have explicitly stated that applicants with a history of mental health issues will have their applications scrutinized any more than an applicant without. There has been little evidence of universities sweeping on-campus mental health issues under the rug.

According to an article written by the student in question for the Huffington Post in 2014, the health office at Yale University was concerned about a student’s low weight. Though the student later managed to prove to the university that she was simply naturally skinny, the university took measures to confront the potential issue, asking the student to go to psychologists and visit the nurse more often.

The university, if anything, over-addressed the problem.

While counselors may claim that universities discriminate against students with mental health issues, the example of Yale showed that even a highly selective university would be willing to address any potential problem and offer treatment where needed.

Young people with histories of mental disorders already have a lot on their minds when applying to universities. Counselors telling them that universities will discriminate against them for being honest adds to the already immense stress that comes with applying to college with a mental illness history.

In addition, mental illness research, often conducted by universities themselves, has made immense strides in the past decade. Conditions such as depression are finally being recognized as legitimate medical conditions and not just "a phase" or a weakness within the person.

Any counselor who tells their students that these institutions will not accept them due to these health concerns are furthering the stigmatizing of those conditions.

No student should ever feel discouraged from applying to their dream school just because of issues they may have had in the past with their mental health.