As the year dwindles down into weeks, the stress of final papers, final presentations and long nights with no sleep hovers over me like the razor sharp edge of the guillotine, ready to decapitate my GPA and send me flying to the depths of the despair called unemployment… Or so my anxiety disorder would have me believe.
I am a senior psychology student currently taking a course on psychotherapy. As the wonderful Dr. Sell has told us in lecture, that above sentence is full of irrational thoughts and reasoning (as well as metaphors and similes, but that would be a discussion for Dr. Duncan). The next six weeks will not be torture; they will be stressful, but I will not die from them. Nor will my GPA plummet. Nor will I be unemployable after I graduate. I have a lot of resources at my disposal, including past work experience, encouraging parents and a dynamite career center. All the balls are in my court. Except.
This time last year I was “not in a good place.” I had fallen into what many describe as a spiral of depression and anxiety. I felt hopeless. I felt worthless. I felt horrible. In August I finally talked to my mom. The next day we were at a clinic, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I was medicated. Happy ending, right?
Except. I still suffer from mental illness. While depression is sort of under control, my anxiety is harder to manage. Those irrational thoughts plague my mind at times when stress is highest. If I don’t do well on this exam, I’m a horrible student. When I’m unable to look someone in the eye because of my anxiety, I’m a spineless child. I should be able to speak without fumbling my words–I’m an adult, after all.
Anxiety and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses. While there are varying accounts on the exact prevalence of mental illness, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that in 2012, 16 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode. NIMH also estimates that 28.8 percent of U.S. adults will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
I know that here at Concordia, we feel we are an enlightened population. That we are aware of and respect those with mental illness. Look no further than the panel hosted by Active Minds in the fall where over 200 people came to hear the stories of 8 Cobbers affected by mental illness. 10% of our student body was there. How many campuses can boast that impressive of a turn-out? But we also boast the lifestyle of the “Happy Cobber.”
This outer image of success and happiness lends itself well the aforementioned irrational thoughts. If I’m not happy, I’m doing something wrong. If I don’t appear happy, people won’t like me. When I’m stressed I can’t be happy.
The stigmas surrounding mental illness are socially perpetuated. They are sustained through the generations and through everyday interactions. It is difficult to reach out to parents, friends or professionals when we’ve been taught that talking about those feelings is inappropriate. How often do we answer the question “How are you?” with the honest, bare truth?
The war against stigma cannot be won by just one anxious senior and a laptop. In the fall 200 students rallied behind the cause at the Active Minds event. For that, I and every person with mental illness applauds you. But what are we doing with the rest of our time to combat the stigma and stress revolving around the issue of mental illness?
There are the more obvious and BREW-y sounding answers. Volunteer at a shelter, or the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. Join the club Active Minds. Speak at events regarding mental illness. (…write a letter to the Concordian on the subject…) But there are more subtle ways to support sufferers. Recognize the stress that your roommate is experiencing, and ask what you can do to help. Be the friend that people can go to if they need someone to talk to. Listen. Be open to having those deeper conversations that might start out uncomfortable, but lead to stronger friendship.
There are so many ways to join the battle–pick one and we will welcome you to the cause.
Rape and Abuse Crisis Center 1-800-344-7273
Suicide Hotline 701-298-4500
Kjos Health Center 218-299-3662
Counseling Office 218-299-3514
This article was submitted by Channing Bendtsen, contributing writer.