As students at Hopkins, we are all residents of Baltimore City. It is easy to forget this when we talk about mental health at Hopkins, an indisputably academically stressful environment, yet a privileged population. In some neighborhoods in Baltimore, mental health stems from deep-rooted issues of segregation, poverty and socioeconomic disparities.
In our attempts to combat mental health at our university, we subconsciously ignore mental health issues that affect communities outside of our campus. The Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-Being, formed by students and faculty in 2016 to address mental health at Hopkins, highlighted the main triggers of mental illnesses for students in their February 2018 report. They listed the competitive academic culture and difficulty of adjusting to a new environment as the main culprits of stress. But these issues address a limited scope of triggers that could induce mental health problems.
Gun violence. Opioid addiction. Domestic abuse. These issues, rather than academic stress or struggles in adjustment, are only a small number of a long list of triggers resulting in the high rates of mental illness in Baltimore. Baltimore residents comprise a large majority — over 30 percent — of patients discharged from hospitals for mental illness in Maryland, a concerning statistic considering the fact that Baltimore’s population is only 11 percent of the state’s total population. In 2016, Baltimore City reportedly had the highest rate of deaths caused by drug overdose amongst large metropolitan cities in the U.S., and these rates have continued to increase. It is also estimated that 60,000 Baltimoreans have a drug or alcohol addiction.
Even more striking is the state of mental health among Baltimore’s youth. According to a 2013 report, 28 percent of students have experienced symptoms of mental illness. In addition, it is reported that a large percentage of children face many adversities, as they may have encountered domestic violence, experienced the death of a parent, lived in a house with drug addiction, or been a victim of or witness to violence.
These numbers reveal a harsh truth: that some of our neighbors, who live a few miles or even a few blocks away from Homewood Campus, might not have the same access to mental health resources and support that we do.
This is not to dismiss the efforts Hopkins has made to resolve mental health amongst its students, nor is it to undermine the recent wave of depression and anxiety claiming college students in recent years. Mental health issues are on the rise amongst college students around the U.S. Students in college account for a large proportion of the high suicide rate amongst adults aged 15 to 34, of which suicide is the second-leading cause of death.
However, it is difficult to deny that the Hopkins community is not as aware as it should be about Baltimore’s issues with mental health and inequality. While we should continue to break the stigma against mental health, we also need to broaden the scope of people who are affected by it.
I had my moment of realization in a public health class, where my only window to view the issues surrounding mental health in Baltimore was the PowerPoint lecture projected at the front of the room. Sitting comfortably in my seat, I realized the irony of learning about problems that were occurring directly outside the building in this way. The Hopkins community as a whole, both its instructors, students and myself, need some time for reflection.
As we continue to develop our own programs to fight mental health in an academic environment, we should also keep the Baltimore community in mind. As the Baltimore City Health Department continues to build many of its own programs, such as the Resiliency in Communities after Stress and Trauma (ReCAST) program and the Promoting Student Resilience program, our own Task Force should not forget our neighbors. Let’s continue to foster a healthy student community, but let’s also spread these efforts to Baltimore, the city we live in and love.