Mental illness is something we as a nation need to talk about more. Levels of anxiety and depression are rising among teens and college aged students, as well as a number of other mental illnesses. Many older generations do not know how to respond to this epidemic, calling my generation "soft" or "attention seeking" and brushing the problem back under the rug.
What those doubters need to realize, however, is that mental illness is a very real and very terrifying thing. It isn't just some made up thing we're doing for attention; it is a literal chemical imbalance in our brain that impacts the way we think and perceive the world around us.
Dealing with anxiety and depression can be an extremely terrifying and difficult thing, especially in college. This is the first time we are able to call all of the shots for ourselves and take control of our own lives. It can be challenging and many don't understand the struggles we face day to day. Here are a few things college students with depression and anxiety want their friends, family and peers to know.
1. Getting out of bed is one of the biggest challenges of the day.
I don't mean this in a "ugh, five more minutes" kind of way. For those of us who deal with mental illness, mustering up the energy to roll out of bed and get on with our day can seem like climbing Mount Everest. It may sound silly, even trivial, but to us our bed is a safe haven. When thinking about all of our responsibilities, sometimes staying in bed seems like the perfect escape. We're not being lazy; we just don't have the capacity to move some days.
2. Sometimes we just need to recharge.
We would love to go to that party or hang out and watch movies tonight... but we just can't. I know it may seem like we're being flaky, but I promise you that we aren't. Sometimes, especially after a busy social day, we just need to take time for ourselves to regather our thoughts and feelings so we can function properly. When we decline these invitations, a good deal of the time we actually do want to go, but we just know that it would be a recipe for disaster. Maybe we feel an anxiety attack coming on, or are starting to disassociate. Whatever it is, we know we won't be fun company and are attempting to spare us and you from having a bad time. Nothing personal.
3. We have a lot of irrational thoughts, so please be patient.
What may make perfect, logical sense to us may sound absolutely ridiculous to you. People with anxiety tend to overthink things, planning out every crazy scenario and coming up with any logical (or otherwise) explanation in order to calm their frantic minds. Sometimes they're harmless, but sometimes overthinking can be very damaging. It can lead to a lot of doubt within ourselves, our relationships with other people, etc. Just remember that our minds work a bit differently than yours, and please don't negate our feelings because that's the worst thing you could do. Be supportive and remind us how much you care. It means a lot.
4. Don't let us get away with anything.
If we're doing something that is upsetting or hurting you in any way, please let us know. You don't have to worry about hurting us, we're not as fragile as we seem. Yes, some of our hurtful behavior may be due to our mental illness, but that absolutely does not excuse it. We are human beings too, who make mistakes and need to learn from them in order to grow and change. So please let us know if we are saying or doing something that upsets you. Harboring any ill feelings towards us on account of sparing our feelings will only do more harm than good. We can talk about this.
5. Nothing about this is "deep" or "artsy."
Popular media often portrays depression as "cute" or "artsy" in order to appeal to the masses. Often, we see gorgeous girls quietly crying as they write angsty poetry and listen to Tame Impala. This can lead to the common misconception that teens who are depressed are just looking for attention or want to be a part of some misguided aesthetic. I can tell you first hand that nothing about my mental illness is cute or artsy in any way. It's ugly and messy, there's no poetic element to it. We take our illness very seriously and we really wish the media and society as a whole would too.
The list could go on, but these points are just from my point of view. Everyone's mental health journey is a different story, there is no cookie cutter mold for what anxiety or depression should look or feel like. People who are dealing with mental illness are not looking for a pity party; we just want our stories and struggles to be recognized for what they are.
Mental health awareness has come a long way, but we need to keep pushing in order for anything to be really changed. Change starts with understanding and understanding starts with conversation, so really listen to and support those close to you who are dealing with mental illness. I promise it makes a huge difference.