As college students, we are in one of the most transformative, fun, yet completely and utterly stressful times in our lives. We spend our evenings in the library, run on little to no sleep, don’t exercise nearly enough and try to fit social obligations in with it. It’s no wonder that 1 in every 4 college students has been treated for a mental illness in the past year. And that statistic only includes the students that actually seek out help. A huge issue on college campuses is not dealing with those that seek help, but helping those who are too afraid of the stigma of mental illness to reach out to their friends, teachers and the trained professionals provided on campus.
Mental illness is not just a byproduct of your experiences or environment. It is often also influenced by a genetic predisposition, something beyond your control. Which is why the stigma behind it is so ridiculous. No one would shame a person with a leg cast for not being able to walk a mile, yet people with serious depression are shamed for not being able to get out of bed some mornings. We are predisposed to dismiss these mental illnesses because we cannot easily see them. You can see a leg cast, but not depression, even though there are serious effects for both.
Unfortunately, though, this stigma does exist. However, by reaching out and getting help, you are helping to normalize mental health not just for yourself, but for others. Every single college campus provides some form of counseling. I cannot stress this enough: IF YOU ARE FEELING ANXIOUS OR DEPRESSED PLEASE SEEK OUT THESE PROFESSIONALS. Even if you don’t have a mental illness, college is such a stressful time that you shouldn’t shy away from the opportunity to talk to professionals for free who can help you manage this stress. Even the students that shined the brightest in high school will come across tough times in college. The only way to successfully get through these is to get help when you need it. It is not weak to go to the college counselor to talk. It is not weak tell your friends you're struggling. It is not weak to admit that college is hard, because it is, and you are not the only one going through this.
It is also on us, however, to ensure that if our friends are not reaching out, that we are paying attention. Pay attention to the friend that is always skipping meals “to study,” make sure she/he is taking care of themselves and make sure they eat. Pay attention to the friend who shows up at your room with a stray mascara mark on her cheek. It is so easy to avoid the hard conversations and pretend like you do not see it, but you are not providing her any help.
The people affected by mental health are not just figures in TV shows that only exist on the screen. They are real people. They are your sorority sisters, the boy who lives down the hall, the girl you danced with at that rave, it might even be you. Even if they do not appear to be struggling does not mean they are not. And, if they are not willing to come out and get help for their mental illness then it can spiral into even bigger problems.
I will leave you with one last point. Suicide is real; it does happen, and it CAN be prevented. The best way to do this is to make sure those with suicidal thoughts are getting the help they need, which they can find here at the Suicide Hotline. And you can help with that. Whether through talking (yes, simply talking) about mental health issues to help de-stigmatize it, or paying attention to your friends and encouraging them to get help, you can truly make a difference Also, many universities have clubs specifically tailored towards this issue. Get involved. Help students become aware of the mental health facilities on campus, and help to combat this problem of mental illness that our college populations face.
Lead Image Credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash