In the video, students talk about a range of disorders that they have experience with — a veteran talks about post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, while another speaker discusses how her family dealt with her grandfather's suicide.
"I was nervous telling anyone because there is such a bad stigma about mental illness and the word 'schizo,' " one student, Stephanie Kaczmarek, 20, says in the video. "I was scared to tell my boyfriend because I was afraid it would put a huge rock in our relationship that we couldn't get around. But he's definitely been there for me and not judgmental at all."
Kaczmarek said in an interview that she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in January 2012, after years in which she had experienced delusions — such as hearing footsteps, feeling bugs crawling on her and having thoughts planted in her head, often about death or demons, that sometimes led to panic attacks and feelings of paranoia. After resisting medication for fear that it would make her a different person, she started a drug regimen last year that she considers "nothing short of a miracle."
"I actually used to be a wonderful student in school before the symptoms started to get worse and worse. I would study and nothing made sense, nothing could be grasped and the information just didn't sink in," she said. "Now that I'm on medication, my grades and comprehension have drastically improved, and I made the dean's list."
She decided to tell her story to counter the negative image of persons with mental illness.
"Whenever there's a national tragedy, like a school shooting, you always read things online, like 'We should ship all the crazies away. … We should have them all euthanized,' " she says on the video. "It is scary for me to know there are people out there who think like that."
The study is based on a training program, Hearing Voices That Are Distressing, created by psychologist Patricia Deegan and used most commonly on health professionals, educators, police and others who may come in contact with people with mental illnesses. But Denenny said she wanted to see if such a program could have an impact on a college campus.
"It's the right age group, right on the cusp of the age of risk," Denenny said. "And it's also that period when friends have more influence on you, when having friends is important."
Friends can persuade a person suffering from mental illness to seek treatment, Denenny said.
Denenny and Eryn Bentley, a master's candidate also working on the study, said they hope that if the tape and video are found to be helpful, some form of it might be used more broadly. The video in particular, Bentley said, would not be out of place at freshman orientation, where new students are given material on subjects such as guarding against sexual abuse.
The researchers said they were surprised that they received more responses than they could use when they put up fliers and online ads looking for students to tell their stories for the video. Some were motivated by gratitude for the treatment they'd received, Denenny said, and wanted to encourage others to seek help.
"People who do have mental illnesses are scared of being discriminated against," Bentley said. "And you see the immense toll this stigma can take."
Schiffman said other countries have done better jobs of making mental illness less stigmatized. He points to Australia, for example, where mental health centers for youths resemble YMCAs, places to go not just for counseling and support but also recreation.
"As a society, if we normalize the seeking of help," he said, "people are more likely to seek that help."