The Vanguard

Letter to the Editor: Stop stigmatizing mental illness

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To the editorial board of The Vanguard,

My name is Shane Kuhlman and I am the president of the Clinical and Counseling Psychology Graduate Student Organization (CCP-GSO) at the University of South Alabama.  I am writing on behalf of our organization to express our collective concern about the headline, “Dear Debbie: what should I do if I have a psycho roommate?” published in the July 2 edition of The Vanguard.  

I want to begin by stating that we believe the intent of the article was to facilitate positive communication between roommates, RAs, and other support staff, which we support wholeheartedly.  However, the headline that accompanies this argument may be stigmatizing to those with mental illness, and we wish to encourage a more careful, nuanced, and intentional discussion of the issue.  The word “psycho” may associate violence or antisocial behavior with all forms of mental illness.  Research by our faculty mentors has found that over 30% of our students have some form of anxiety/depressive symptoms, which is near the average of universities across the United States.  That means almost a third of our students are suffering from symptoms which may impact interpersonal communication and relationships.  Therefore, poor communication between roommates may be exceedingly common, not some “psychotic” defect. Many unhealthy and/or unproductive exchanges can occur outside the context of persons suffering with mental illness. Indeed, it appears that the focus of the article addresses these types of normal, everyday, and developmentally-appropriate interactions that result in minor distress and frustrations. We certainly recognize the importance of directly addressing safety concerns if there are imminent threats to one’s well-being, as mentioned at the outset of the article. However, we urge the editorial board to consider the power The Vanguard wields in this regard and the often unintentional, yet possibly harmful ramifications of stigmatizing student experiencing mental health concerns.

All the above considered, we would welcome any conversations about such matters in the future.  For example, alternative headlines which may help to facilitate your argument of interpersonal effectiveness and/or conflict resolution may be “mismatched roommate personalities” or “what to do if you do not get along with a roommate.”  We have also gathered some literature on the topic that may help facilitate the dissemination of newspaper articles related to mental illness and the like in the future (see below).  Additionally, I want to state that the students that comprise the CCP-GSO would be happy to consult on any matter related to mental illness, interpersonal relationships, or sociocultural concerns.  Please feel free to contact me with any of these issues or concerns that you have related to our response.  Thank you for your time and consideration of this important matter.  


Shane Kuhlman, M.S.

Doctoral Candidate

Combined-Integrated Clinical-Counseling Psychology

Department of Psychology & Department of Professional Studies

University of South Alabama


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Letter to the Editor: Stop stigmatizing mental illness