Mental health awareness in college students: stories from The Belltower staff
Abigail Lowrie, Layout manager
Amanda Chappell, Section editor
I have been reluctant to share my personal mental health journey for fear of judgement, criticism, and reaction from both my professors and peers. However, I have come to be proud of my journey and spread the message to anyone who starts the conversation, that it is okay not to be okay, and asking for help does not make you weak. I will never forget the day I had an anxiety attack in class. It was the end of a test, I couldn’t stop shaking and when the professor approached me, I burst into tears asking for an extension, explaining that I couldn’t finish it, and everything going on in my world felt like it had collapsed in on me. I left the classroom and sat in my car sobbing for nearly two hours until my partner could drive me home. I remember feeling trapped, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t stop crying, and it was a terrifying moment for me. Every wall that I had tried to put up for months had come crumbling down and every fear was out in the open.
The following week, I found myself in the Counseling and Wellness Center lobby, shaking like a Chihuahua and on the verge of tears. I was asking for help. I met with a counselor weekly for around 18 weeks, with the flood of tears starting from the minute I walked through the door. I didn’t know that I had so much baggage bottled up, and I didn’t realize the toll that it was taking on me. I distinctly remember my third to last visit, at the end, my counselor smiled and said, “you didn’t cry this time! That’s great progress!”
While I have since stopped seeing someone at the Counseling and Wellness Center (though I should), I am still advocating for both my own mental health and those around me. My mental health journey began when I accepted the fact that I had suffered emotional and physical abuse as a child. I no longer hide behind my walls and ignore my past; I am constantly working through the pain, and looking forward to a brighter future. In 2017, NBC News reported that “more than 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 24.” The average age of undergraduate college students ranges from 18 to 24, a crucial time in a young adult’s life where the pressures of the world are starting to fall on their own shoulders. Like myself, this pressure finally led to a breakdown. Nearly 30 percent of college students have admitted to stress affecting their academics negatively. Stress can come from multiple facets of a student’s life and while anxiety can be arguably more presented, there are often other disorders plaguing college students that are not talked about such as body dysmorphic disorder, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. It was reported in February 2018, that one in five college students have anxiety or depression. This has led to the reliance of both prescription and recreational drugs, including tobacco. There is evidence to suggest that cigarette smoking can play a role in students’ mental health and wellbeing. The high cost of a college education also plays a factor in students’ stress, not only are they paranoid to get the best grades, but fear of going into debt often affects their fears of the future, leading to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
If you notice that a friend, loved one, or even classmate seem to be showing signs of a mental illness, reach out to them, or tell a trusted faculty member. Mental health matters, and it is okay, to not be okay. Breathing exercises help me combat my bad days. Breathing in for 4 seconds, holding my breath for 8 seconds, and exhaling for 7 seconds causes my heart rate to slow and also helps me calm down. I also practice daily self-care such as taking a bath, journaling, drawing/coloring, listening to happy music, going for a drive, spending time with a loved one/friend, exercising, or going for a walk around campus. I also wake up and repeat self-love mantras to myself such as “My body is my home, and I will treat it with respect,” “I love myself,” and “I am worthy of living in happiness” while looking in the mirror. It may sound silly and make you feel a little embarrassed, but the saying “fake it ‘til you make it” applies greatly here. If you pretend to believe these things, you eventually will believe them to be the actual truth.
If you’re looking for a pick me up or inspiration for your own self-love journey, I suggest checking out YouTuber RawAlignment.
Many know of my mental health journey, as I like to share my personal essays with others to spread the word. For those of you who don’t know, last year, my first year at Saint Martin’s, I spent a week in a voluntary psychiatric unit, in the middle of fall semester. I had acquired the issues that led me to that point before coming to campus, but with the stress of being a college student to the PTSD from a prior abusive relationship, it all became too much to handle.
I was reluctant at first to be admitted to the unit. I was scared. Terrified. I wasn’t crazy enough to go there, right? I couldn’t be. Alas, I knew that was what had to be done at the time, so I trusted my gut and signed on the dotted line.
The unit was odd. There were no sharp corners, everything was made of plastic, and even the pens they gave to the patients were of a bendable material. The food was good – we got to personalize all our meals. More importantly, the staff was patient. There were a couple occurrences when I felt like the walls were closing in one me – that happens to you when you can’t leave a facility for six days – and I became irritable to the point of almost trying to escape. I wanted fresh air. I wanted freedom.
What I got was… “Jurassic Park.” The nurse who made it a priority to ensure my comfort whisked me away to the lounge, and turned on the movie, in attempts to distract my disoriented mind. It worked, until I got up and paced the halls again, about three fourths of the way through the movie. Then, we played board games.
The most important thing I got out of those six days, was help. Sure, I was meeting with counselors before then, but I needed more help. After those six days, I was immediately set up with a much-needed psychiatrist, put on anti-depressants, and I was surrounded by others going through the same thing.
When this happened last year, only about five people knew, and I was content with that. I was terrified of this news spreading to my classmates, professors, and friends. It was embarrassing; I felt so ashamed. It wasn’t until a few months later that I first spoke out about my mental health, and the chaotic journey that was 1-South. Ever since then, being a mental health advocate has become so important to me.
My point here is this: it’s okay to seek out help. It’s scary and uncomfortable, and you’re probably never going to get used to it (I still struggle with it), but it’s necessary. For you, your safety, and the ones who love and care about you.
For the longest time I struggled to accept that I too could have issues with my mental health. I was in denial that I could ever get depressed or have depressive tendencies, until it actually happened to me. For a long time I had no friends, little social interaction with others, and I would cry myself to sleep every night because I felt so alone. I had no one to confide in, no one to help me, and as much as my family tried to help I continued to beat myself up over every little thing. Following a breakdown and my first real panic attack, I knew I needed to find help, even if it wasn’t through counselling or doctor’s visits. I woke up the day after my first panic attack and told myself that I would no longer let myself look down at my life or my choices, and I would stop the cycle of self-deprecation and finally allow myself to find out who I am and who I was meant to be. I threw myself into college, tried to make friends, but found that many of the ‘friends’ I had were merely using me or homework or for my generosity. I shut down again, and spiraled back into the cycle of self-hate and loneliness. It took me until my junior year to really help myself grow as an individual, and I have never looked back. I stopped caring what people thought of me and lived the way that made me most happy. I talked to people who had similar problems as myself, and that helped me to really get past one of the toughest periods of my life. I dressed how I wanted, spoke my mind, and reached out to others to talk about my problems. I was still struggling, but I found solace in the fact that there were people around me who truly cared, and wanted to help me. When I started dating my boyfriend, things really picked up for me. I was happy, I had someone to support me in my endeavours and hold me up when I needed it, someone to care for me the way no other person had before. FInding him was one of the best things that happened to me, as he genuinely wants me to be happy and live life as my truest self. I now surround myself with a beautiful group of people who all offer so much to my life, and I talk regularly with others and support groups as well as a counselor when I’m really struggling. It took almost five years for me to finally feel like myself again, but the journey to get here shaped me in ways that I am grateful for. For everyone out there who may be in denial, don’t let it eat you up or tear you apart. IT’s okay to not be okay, it’s okay to have anxiety or have a panic attack, and it’s okay to feel sad. Reach out to the multitudes of resources available for you, and don’t let the stigma of mental illness or therapy hold you back from being healthy. You should strive to be healthy in mind and body, and I encourage all of you to seek out help no matter how big or how small your problems are.
There are resources available to students, such as the counseling and wellness center for appointment-based counseling sessions, and crisis hotlines to call for immediate assistance.
If you are in suicidal or emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours day, 7 days a week.
For general information on mental health and to locate local treatment services in your area, call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-877-726-4727 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If you are in a potentially life-threatening situation, PLEASE call 911.