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Mental Health

Insights from the OUE Research Team

Mental health is a state of well-being that exists on a complex continuum unique to each person and is a critical component of health that lies at the core of our individual and collective abilities to build relationships, make decisions, and navigate the world in which we live (WHO, 2023). An estimated 1 in 5 U.S. adults and 1 in 6 U.S. children experience mental illness each year. Although mental illness prevalence estimates are imperfect, they still highlight that anyone experiencing a mental health concern is not alone.

Many individual, interpersonal, social, and structural factors manifest throughout our lives and interact to protect or challenge our mental health and alter our position on the continuum of well-being. These risk and protective factors operate on different scales (e.g., brain chemistry, family history, social emotional skills, exposure to unfavorable conditions, national legislation, and international policy), and their impact on us will also vary based on a constellation of factors within ourselves and our environment. All that is to say anyone can be impacted by mental health challenges, and mental health challenges are neither weaknesses nor flaws. Mental health challenges can be short-term, episodic, or chronic, and 75 percent of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 24. Although experiencing mental health concerns can make activities such as learning, working, and maintaining relationships difficult, people impacted by mental health challenges can manage their conditions and lead fulfilling and meaningful lives with early and consistent treatment.

Unfortunately, a cultural expectation of being well and taking care of yourself contributes to stigma (including self-stigma), discrimination against people with mental health challenges, and a proliferation of (ineffective) consumerist solutions marketed as self-care. Further, access to quality care for mental health challenges is not distributed equitably. These factors explain, at least in part, why more than half of people experiencing mental health challenges do not engage in treatment. Thankfully, evidence-based treatment strategies and new tools to support well-being do exist for mental illness, with new approaches constantly emerging and evolving. Strategies to cultivate self-compassion (see examples here and here) represent one approach that has shown to help prevent and improve symptoms of mental health challenges. 

If you are concerned about a student, connecting them with CAPS and DukeReach is a great first step to help them engage with support at Duke. Similarly, benefit-eligible faculty and staff (and their immediate families) seeking assessment, short-term counseling, and referrals can engage with PAS services at no charge. Duke and Durham emergency resources can be found here.