Students often struggle with feeling overworked, underappreciated and stressed because of their course load, campus involvement and part or full-time jobs. Some prevailing mental health issues in the student population include anxiety and depression, conditions that don’t discriminate based on income, gender, race or sexuality.
I have struggled with both of these conditions, despite being successful in my studies and active on campus and at work.
I grew up in a rural Ohio environment where people were discouraged to reach out for help. Instead, they often turned to alcoholism or suppressed their grievances in other ways. I had never explored therapy or had any kind of mental health evaluation as a result of growing up in that type of environment.
I was the textbook definition of a high-functioning student and had a reputation of kindness and intelligence. I had been a model student with a 4.0 GPA and an avid band and theater enthusiast. I had held a job since age 13 at a local restaurant owned by family friends. I was able to explore my hobbies of basketball, music and political debate. However, I had secretly been struggling with depression and anxiety. I had engaged in self-harm since age 12 and felt intense guilt over things I could not control.
When I came to Eastern Michigan University, I thought a change of environment would nullify my need for counseling. I could finally be my authentic self: I could come out of the closet, become truly active in politics and start anew. I had all the power and a lot of pride. Therefore, I refused to take advantage of the services available to me as a student.
I relied on my friends for support, sometimes excessively. I buried my feelings in 30-hour work weeks and hard work in classes. I continued functioning enough to fulfill my academic and career goals, and I often put my emotional needs on the back-burner.
Sadly, it took the tragic event of losing my close friend to suicide to make me realize I needed help. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) reached out to me after a tip from a friend said I was struggling with intense guilt and sorrow. After a few sessions, my pride once again got in the way and I stopped going.
I came to an impasse a few months later. I had gone on several benders and engaged in self-harm to a degree I never had before, and my close friend staged an intervention. Soon after returning to therapy, I worked myself up to exploring antidepressants. I started on Zoloft and eventually upped my dose. Sadly, it made things worse – my anxiety had increased while my depression was unaffected. I experienced vivid nightmares, and I was ill-equipped for losing my job, my e-board position and eventually my relationship.
I knew something had to change, and I had to hold myself accountable for how my depression and anxiety, and the decisions which stemmed from them, affected my life. I switched to Lexapro, got back into old hobbies and returned to therapy. I became more involved in the Echo, built my skills in politics by working in a legislative office and began valuing my own needs. I took calculated risks rather than impulsive lunges. I adopted a cat that became my de facto emotional support animal. I reinvested into my future rather than being consumed by my past. I am on my way to becoming whole, and I feel better than I have in a literal decade.
So, if you are struggling with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, I have the following advice for you:
Trust your friends when they tell you that you could benefit from working with a professional. It can be difficult to hear, but it is some of the most helpful advice I have ever received. Your friends are not your professional therapists, and it is not fair to expect them to fill that role.
Know that not everything that works for others will work for you. I experienced a lot of trial and error in understanding how I think about things and how I can combat these unproductive and debilitating thoughts.
You have a whole network of support, though it can be difficult to see sometimes. You have resources through phone lines and through people who have been there. You are never truly alone.
Mental health is not a one-shot battle. It is a long and often difficult struggle. But it is always worth it to persevere.
Anyone can benefit from therapy. Anyone. I understand that you may have impostor syndrome regarding seeking help and that you might diminish your problems – I’ve been there. But talking to someone can be helpful regardless of whether you frame your problems as minuscule.
Finally, I highly encourage you to take advantage of your campus resources by scheduling an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 313 Snow Health Center, 734.487.1118.
You deserve to feel mentally healthy and to have a support system that pushes you to make steps in that direction.