Despite what you’ve seen in the movies, there’s more to college than Greek Week and beer pong. In fact, “the best years of your life” (as so many college graduates like to say) can be tough on anyone. You’re juggling class schedules, homework, work, extracurricular activities like sports or music – all at a time when you’re (most likely) on your own for the first time. Sure, college life is exciting, but it can also be a really stressful and confusing time.
Ask anyone – or one out of five students, anyway. That’s how many college students suffer from anxiety or depression. As I’ve traveled the country speaking to teenage students, I’m often hit by the reality of how much you have on your plates – and how much you carry on your shoulders (and in your brains).
While bouts of anxiety or depression can be normal – like the anxiousness you feel prior to a test or try-outs, or the sadness you experience after a breakup – if these feelings are prolonged or become intense enough to interfere with your daily life, it’s time to get help.
Anxiety and depression are becoming much more commonplace on college campuses. But why is your demographic suffering so much? We can likely blame several factors –the loneliness and fear of being independent for the first time, pressure from parents, coaches and yourself to perform well, financial difficulties, romantic drama and bullying or peer pressure to name a few. Add to that the abundance of drugs and alcohol on college campuses and the fact that mental illness often manifests in adolescence and early adulthood and its easy to see why so many students struggle.
Does this sound familiar?
You could be juggling the stress of college beautifully. But don’t beat yourself up if you’re not. Either way, it’s critical to be open and honest with yourself about how you feel – and to ask for help when you need it.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms of anxiety disorders, it’s time to talk to a professional.
Anxiety can often go hand in hand with depression, but you can certainly experience one without the other. You may have depression if you recognize any of these symptoms:
Both depression and anxiety can be scary – on or off a college campus. That’s because mental illnesses, by definition, distort your thinking. They create a false reality in which you’re fearful, worthless, incapable and undeserving of all the good life has to offer. And when your own brain is telling you that, it’s really easy to believe it.
The good news is, like any illness, anxiety and depression are both treatable. Therapy and/or medication can help you feel like you again. If you think you may have anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor or a medical professional.
The truth is, anxiety and depression likely won’t just “go away” on their own. That’s why it’s critical that you recognize the issue and work toward coping with the symptoms and/or treating any underlying causes. My new book, Beneath the Surface, explains how anxiety and depression affect your brain and your life, offering real, tactical methods to treat it as well as resources for getting the help you need. For more information, visit www.thegriefgirl.com.
If you have feelings of self-harm or suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
On a characteristically sunny Southern California day in October 2012, my husband, Bill, walked onto the MetroLink tracks near our Dana Point home, spread his arms wide, and completed suicide as he was struck by the oncoming train.
Bill was depressed. He was anxious. He suffered with substance abuse, steroid use and a host of other “typical” symptoms of mental illness. But Bill was also a victim. He bought into the widespread stigma about mental illness that plagues our society today. He was a middle-aged, white man with the strength to move mountains. In fact, Bill was a body builder and gym owner. He was the picture of physical health. But inside, Bill was dying. And the help he needed required him to admit the impossible – he couldn’t control his brain.
Bill’s shame wasn’t an anomaly in 2012, just as it isn’t today. In fact, Mental Illness Policy Org. reports that half of Americans suffering from severe psychiatric disorders are receiving no treatment – that’s as many as 3.5 million individuals.
While there’s no one reason to explain this issue, I know what held Bill back. It wasn’t that he had no one begging him to get help – I was. It wasn’t even that he didn’t recognize the symptoms in himself – he did. For Bill, it was the shame associated with society’s mental health stigma that kept him from the saving arms of treatment. It was the embarrassment and denial that comes with admitting to be what society calls “broken.”
Break the Stigma
May marks Mental Health Awareness Month – a time in which we can offer life-saving information to those suffering from mental illness. Whether you or a family member are experiencing mental health issues, you can play a big role in helping those around you who may be by helping to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Here’s how:
After Bill’s suicide, I was wracked with the guilt of knowing I hadn’t done enough. While that was largely due to my personal grieving process, there are many things I now know that I wish I’d known then. For example, I knew Bill needed help, but I didn’t know just how urgent the situation was. I didn’t know that he was at a higher risk for suicide because he knew three people who had died that way, or because he had two grandmothers who had attempted it. I didn’t know that his past use of steroids and current use of anxiety medications were exacerbating his illness. I didn’t even realize his frequent talk of death and suicide was a red flag that he had a plan in place. I say this not to wallow in my own failings, but to underscore that the best way for us to end the stigma and help those we love is to learn everything we can about mental illness.
Politics, religion and… mental illness? While mental health issues might feel personal or taboo, talking about them can save lives – yours or that of someone you love. Being open about your own struggles – something as simple as telling a friend what you learned from your therapist can open the door to empathy and understanding. If you read or overhear someone perpetuating a mental health stigma, kindly share your knowledge. Be cautious not to use mental health conditions as insults or jokes – you wouldn’t accuse someone whose made a poor decision of having cancer, after all.
If you think you can’t relate to someone suffering from depression, anxiety or another mental illness, you’re probably right. That’s because you’re experiencing life with a brain that isn’t lying to you. Once you get to know someone who is mentally ill, you’ll start to understand that this is path no one in their right mind would choose – and that’s the key right there. Rather than avoiding homeless people on the street, talk to them. Look in their eyes and listen to their story. Talk to friends and family members who suffer from depression, anxiety or a host of other issues about the challenges they face on a daily basis. Seek understanding, and empathy will grow with it.
A month isn’t enough time to change the way society has stigmatized mental illness, but we can all make a difference in our respective circles – circles that undoubtedly include someone who’s suffering.
Before you’ve finished reading this paragraph, someone in the United States will attempt suicide.And by the time you’ve finished this page, it’s likely one person will have succeeded. In the next 24 hours, 123 Americans will be dead by their own hand.
Today in the United States, one person completes suicide every 12 minutes, with 25 more attempting it. It’s easy to assume your life will never be touched by suicide—and natural to be sure you’ll never feel the urge. That’s because, for the most part, we understand the risk factors for suicide: a history of depression or mental illness, problems with addiction or substance abuse, disability or illness—even bullying has been linked to suicides.
If none of this sounds like you, you might think you’re in the clear. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.
The thing is, suicide isn’t just about your health history. It can also be about who you are, as well as your current life circumstances. If you belong to any of the following groups, you’re statistically at a higher risk for suicide:
Read more at the Elephant Journal
by Kristi Hugstad
Each of us has attached ourselves to something or somebody, and when you lose that special thing or person, you grieve. Always. You can try to run from it all you want, but it will always find you and tackle you when you’re not looking. My blogs, along with my books, will give you the tools to help you learn to live with your new self as you journey through your grief.