By Roxana Ungureanu, Staff Columnist
What about mental health? Too often we overlook the importance of mental health, and especially on a college campus, where depression and anxiety run rampant. I aim to talk about it so much that it makes people uncomfortable, because change can only come when a little discomfort is applied. When I set off to write this article, I didn’t know how much anxiety would be in store for me. Being the all-or- nothing person that I am, and the perfect article not hitting me in the face (anxiety hit me instead), I settled for nothing. That has been a common theme in my life lately especially when it comes to academics. So this week I will introduce this column through my story, a story of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and potentially Bipolar Type II. I will continue in the following weeks to write about other topics relating to mental health including medication, self-care, ACEs, substance abuse, inclusive resources, DBT, and others. Fair warning, what I write about is drawn from my experience as a white, middle-class immigrant woman, so it goes without saying that my experiences might not be shared by everyone, but to those who do identify with these experiences that I describe, I hope you get some validation out of it.
“[T]o those who do identify with these experiences that I describe, I hope you get some validation out of it.”
It shocks me that mental health isn’t a bigger issue. One of the most common times mental health is talked about is after a negative event such as in response to a shooting, and that gives a very negative view of mental illnesses. So let’s talk about the real aspects of mental health. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” That’s a huge percentage! That means that one out of every five people experiences anxiety, so it’s no wonder I got stuck with this, too. Just my luck, right? Depression affects 6.7% of the US population, and PTSD about 3.5%. But let’s get that image of the mentally ill shooter out of our minds and see the real image of mental health: the average American, and recently becoming more and more the image of the average college student. Mental health issues are rising among college campuses, with more people seeking help than ever before. The American College Counseling Association “has noticed a steady increase of students reporting struggling with their mental health” according to an article from USA Today. This same article explains that a third of college students have experienced depression. It’s true what they say that everyone has a story, so I’ll begin with part of mine. My story is something that for me is very difficult to talk about and there are aspects of it that for many obvious reasons I cannot post on a public column. I keep believing that it’s easier to repress it in my daily life than to accept it, but as my therapist has repeated often enough, “it is what it is”
It took me a long time to seek help, because for a long time, I didn’t know what I had. I had mild depression all throughout high school but it was explained away as puberty or “teenage angst”. I was a perfectionist, always wanting to be in control of every aspect of my life. It was hard and it took a toll on me, especially when I got to college and found it was impossible to be in control of anything anymore. It’s something that I’m still learning every day. It took me a long time to admit to myself that what I was feeling was not normal, that I was not making it up. Looking back on it, it was obvious, but there had been so much stigma around mental illness that I always put my mental health last. I was either too busy or it wasn’t dire enough, but just like walking on a broken leg, the longer mental illnesses go untreated, the worse they get and the harder they are to treat. My depression and anxiety began to affect my schoolwork, attendance,
and job. A common theme of my depression that made it so difficult for me to seek help was deservedness. I was conditioned to think that I wasn’t worthy of anything, even “getting better”. I reached my breaking point the end of sophomore year and I was admitted by friends into psychiatric care at the hospital. This was a wake-up call like no other.
“[I]f you take anything from this column, I hope it’s that you are not alone.”
I started seeing a therapist and psychiatrist regularly and taking medications. Furthermore, my sister was recently diagnosed as Bipolar Type II so I am currently trying to figure out if it’s something that I have as well, but my psychiatrist and I have been functioning under the assumption that I am. I used to hate the idea of medications but now I can’t function without them and I wish I had started taking them earlier. I keep wondering what my life would have been like had I started seeking treatment sooner. Would I be more “successful”? But “successful” by whose terms, mine or someone else’s?
My story is far from finished and I’m still trying to figure out the best ways to navigate life with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and Bipolar Type II, as I’m sure many of you are as well. Mental illnesses can be an isolating thing but if you take anything from this column, I hope it’s that you are not alone.
Check out our references for more information…
Young, Kaisha. “Depression Is at an All-Time High for College Students.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 22 Oct. 2016, college.usatoday.com/2016/10/22/depression-is- at-an- all-time- high-for- college-students/.
“Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts- statistics#.