ellenopinionsEveryone always says that your college years are the best years of your life. Sure, it’s where you meet your best friends and make lifelong memories, but it’s also a time of exorbitant amounts of stress, messy relationships, anxiety about the future and often loneliness. But these are the things no one talks about. We ask how someone is doing, and we wait for them to say, “Good, how are you?” Then we keep walking and toss our response over our shoulder, regardless of whether or not it’s true. When has anyone ever said in passing, “Actually, I’m not doing very well at all. I had a panic attack this morning, and I’m really overwhelmed with everything.” We don’t want to reveal this information about ourselves. But, in reality, it’s normal to struggle with mental health issues. Unfortunately, that’s a concept we haven’t quite grasped yet as a society.

The National Union of Students conducted a survey in 2015, which revealed that 78 percent of students have struggled with mental health issues at some point in time within the past year. Perhaps what is most shocking is that 54 percent of that 78 percent did not seek any help.

While it might not seem like these statistics would apply at Concordia, think twice. It’s true — Concordia fosters an open, supportive, friendly environment that might lead you to believe that anyone struggling with mental health would feel comfortable seeking help. Yes, we have the Counseling Center, but how many people actually take advantage of those services? According to Erika Tomten, the administrative assistant for the Counseling Center, as of last year only 12.9 percent of the Concordia student body visits the Counseling Center. If our student body mirrors the trends of other campuses, that means as many as 65.1 percent of students at Concordia have felt the effects of mental illness at one time or another and have not sought professional help. We have campaigns like “Tell Me About Your Day,” which is great, but are people actually telling each other about their days — the good parts and the bad? This lack of dialogue can be largely attributed to the negative stigma attached to mental health.

Another factor that hasn’t gained as much attention yet is the effects of social media on college students, especially freshmen who are dealing with mental health issues. With Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it has become nearly impossible to avoid comparing yourself to others, which can be devastatingly destructive. Three years ago, as a freshman, I remember looking at my friends’ posts — their smiling faces, their new best friends, the parties, the memories they were making. I felt alone. I felt like I was behind in some way — that I was the only one without permanent friends and confidence. But, as it turns out, everyone is trying to make it look like they have everything together. No one is posting pictures of the nights spent crying in the dorm shower. No one is posting pictures alone, unhappy, lacking confidence. Instead, we’re all walking around afraid — afraid of being judged, afraid of being perceived as weak or pathetic.

And that needs to change. Concordia is trying. This year, the Student Government Association has been working hard to raise awareness about mental health. Recently there has been a big emphasis on suicide prevention, and November 13-19 is scheduled to be Mental Health Awareness week. Our school is making great strides in facilitating a dialogue about mental health issues, but in the end it comes down to us. Are we willing to talk to someone—our friends, professors, counselors—about our problems? And are we willing to listen when others do the same? Because that’s what it comes down to: a judgment free zone, someone willing to listen and someone brave enough to start the conversation.

Ellen Rethwisch

Ellen is a senior English-writing major and business minor at Concordia. In addition to writing for the Concordian, Ellen serves as an assistant captain for the Concordia women's hockey team as well as Vice President for Sigma Tau Delta. She hopes to pursue a career in writing and editing.

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