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Mental health in college: my experience

 Written by    May 1, 2018

Courtesy of Rock Prairie Behavioral Health

My whole life, I’ve lived with with GAD and panic disorder. I’ve had very good years where it didn’t inhibit me whatsoever, and I’ve had very bad years where I’ve struggled to simply leave my house. I wasn’t real sure how I would handle leaving home and being thrown into a completely new environment. I was afraid my anxiety would escalate and I wouldn’t be able to function. I was terrified mental illness would ruin—or even end—my college experience.

This is my honest account.

The first week was difficult. I felt uncomfortable and scared being apart from my family. I fell victim to catastrophic thinking and was sure that I’d fail every class, that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I was trapped in my situation and would be miserable. I was knee-deep in the anxiety that I had known my whole life. I was scared.

But as the newness of everything wore off, I began to feel comfortable in my environment. To my surprise, I was even happy. I hung out with my friends and I did well in my classes and I had plenty of things to do. Exams were stressful, yes, but that’s a typical college student thing. That wasn’t personal to me at all.

College didn’t send my mental health spiraling down the drain. Actually, it seems to have helped it.

Since I’ve lived my whole life with the two disorders, I can’t speak on behalf of those who encountered mental health issues for the first time in college, other than that I understand where they’re coming from. I am lucky enough to have gone through a year of therapy, have medication, and already know the warning signs and coping strategies so I can help myself during panic attacks or periods of anxiety. If someone who’s been mentally healthy their whole lives first encounters issues in college, I have no doubt that it would be scary and difficult to overcome.

The only message I want to tell is that college doesn’t have to be detrimental to mental health. There are a lot of conversations in today’s world about the pressure, problems, and anxiety-producing factors of college, and in my opinion, this is just dangerous. This sparks unneeded fear in those heading to or attending college, and it concerns parents who don’t have enough information on what mental illness is or what college is like today. I can say truthfully that I have found my time here to be positive, and feel that students can really thrive. Insinuating that college causes mental illness is risky and unnecessary. This isn’t to say that higher education and changing stages in life can’t ever correlate with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses; this is to say that it isn’t definitive, isn’t guaranteed, and is no way the rule.

Further, I find it important to note that if you are struggling with your mental health, you have some responsibility in finding solutions to what you’re going through. Keeping it to yourself isn’t going to make it disappear. Talk to your friends, family, roommate, mentor, anyone. The perks of being in a big city is that there are tons of resources; there are plenty of counselors, therapists, and psychiatry centers nearby if you feel you need a professional. There are even apps that connect you with counselors if you don’t want to meet with someone in person. Take preventative measures for your mental health by taking time for yourself, eating right, exercising, spending time with people you love, and getting enough sleep. Little things can often reduce or prevent situational anxiety. Whatever you do, just make sure you do something. Just like with physical health, your mental health is your responsibility. Don’t stay silent. Get help if you need it.

There is a lot of misinformation, stigma, fear, and questions surrounding the interaction between higher education and mental health. All I know is my own experience, and I know my story is not the same as everyone else’s, but that doesn’t mean my story is any less valid. I’m just telling it to put an end to the dangerous narratives and illusory correlations I see. I want high schools students looking at colleges to know that they don’t have to be afraid like I was. I want college students fighting battles that I know all to well to know that help is out there. And I want there to be open conversations about mental health; it’s time to end the view that uncomfortable topics shouldn’t be talked about.

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