College is a time for exploration – figuring out what we believe, learning what we want to do with our lives, and meeting a lot of new people. It can be a time of great stress too though, and when we have a mental illness this can make our adjustment to college life hard. Sometimes, just adjusting to college in general can bring depression to the forefront. Here are stories from students at three universities, discussing their struggles with mental illness – everything from depression and anxiety to OCD and anorexia.
Leeds University Students Discuss Their Mental Health
University College Dublin Students Discuss Their Mental Health
Trinity College Dublin Students Discuss Their Mental Health
Friendships with someone who has a mental health disorder can be quite tough at times. In fact, my group of friends is quite small. Most of them actually are other people that have a mental illness, because they understand what it is like. But I have friends that do not, and they are great!
I know that sometimes, being a friend or in a relationship with someone with a mental illness can be hard sometimes though. You don’t know what to say when certain topics come up, you don’t know how to react to certain situations, or maybe you don’t know what they are looking for or what help they want.
Being someone with a mental illness, there are a few things that friends do that really help me and I think most people with mental illness would say they look for in a good friend:
1) They listen – My true friends simply listen. They don’t judge me and they just listen. They don’t try to think ahead to what they are going to say next or how to respond while I am talking. They carefully pay attention to what I am saying, then they take the time to form a response if one is even needed. Many times I don’t need a response, I do not need advice, I just need someone to listen.
2) They support me – They validate my feelings and show me that I am not alone. They cannot always be present in person 100% of the time, but they let me know that I can text them or email them, Facebook them or leave a voicemail, and when they get it they will get back to me as soon as they can. They let me know that they care and that they are going to be there for me. They are empathetic.
3) They ask how they can help me – Sometimes, they don’t know what to do. Sometimes I don’t even know what I want them to do. I just ramble on and on. So they ask me what I am wanting. What do I need? This question gets to the bottom of things. Do they need to drive me to a therapy appointment? Do they need help studying for a test because of stress? What type of support is needed. It may seem direct, but there are nice ways of saying it, “What can I do to help you?”, “I want to do my best to support you right now, how can I do that?”, “What are some of the things you need right now?”
4) They are educated about mental illness – They know what is going on with me. They do not assume I am faking it, that it is all drama, or that I am “crazy.” They do not stigmatize mental illness. They take the time to learn about what is going on with me by either listening to me tell them about it or by doing their own research (or both!). This helps so much in the friendship.
5) They support me healthy coping skills – My good friends do not tell me I just need to have a drink or smoke pot or have sex to feel better. My good friends tell me I need to do something nice for myself, get a massage, read a good book, exercise, talk to them or my therapist, etc. My good friends understand that going out and partying late at night and drinking alcohol will interfere with my psych meds and mess up my sleep schedule thus possibly throwing my mental illness into disarray. My good friends encourage me to go out with them for alternative activities like a movie or a comedy show.
6) They take care of themselves – I don’t want my friend to feel like I am a burden on them. I want them to have their own lives and I don’t want to be clinging onto them. Knowing that they take care of themselves first and put up boundaries protects them and me. If they get overwhelmed by me, then it puts their mental health in jeopardy and most likely I will also be losing a friend. It is so important when you are friends with someone with a mental illness – or anyone for that matter – you take care of yourself first. Because if you cant take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?
This is a wonderful poem that I was given when I was inpatient. Then I was given it again while in therapy. There is so much power in this poem and I feel like it represent my struggle with mental illness so much. I feel like I have gone back and forth between the chapters of it multiple times in my life and I am sure I will continue to throughout my life.
A POETIC INTERLUDE: AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERSby Portia NelsonI
I walk, down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in
I am lost…. I am helpless
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again
I can’t believe I am in the same place but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.’
I still fall in…. it’s a habit, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
WordPress Post A Day – We all have songs that remind us of specific periods and events in our lives. Twenty years from now, which song will remind you of the summer of 2014?
I’m not perfect. I am going to screw up. I can’t live up to everyone’s expectations.
This summer, I owned up to that. I took off my mask and quit hiding behind it. I quit pretending like I could be happy all the time, I could be perfect all the time, like nothing that was said to me or done to me hurt me. Because you know what? It did, people hurt me. They said hurtful things, they did hurtful things. I suffered from mental illness and I wasn’t always happy all the time. I couldn’t be strong all the time. I’m human. I’m only human.
I’m only human
And I crash and I break down
Your words in my head, knives in my heart
You build me up and then I fall apart
‘Cause I’m only human
I try to make myself believe that I can do everything, that I can be someone I am not. Throughout my life I have done this. If you read my Post A Day yesterday, you will see I have done this my whole life. But this summer, I learned I don’t have to do this anymore. I can be who I am. Christina Perri’s song ‘Human” describes perfectly what my Summer 2014 has been all about – discovering my inner strength – my power – to reclaim and show that I don’t have to be perfect. I can be vulnerable, and that is ok. It is hard, it is hard to let people in, and I am still working on it, but it is possible and it is ok.
Holding my breath, Biting my tongue, forcing a smile, forcing a laugh – that just isn’t possible anymore.
I can take so much
‘Til I’ve had enough
For me, once I have had enough, my only way out was suicide, and I can’t keep turning to that. So this summer, I have begun to reclaim control. Or, work on reclaiming control I should say! It is a work in progress and always will be a work in progress as that is how mental illness is – a lifelong struggle and battle.
As I look back on the summer of 2014, I will remember this song, and how it showed me – it is ok to have flaws and imperfections, that is what makes us human and quite honestly I don’t want to be a robot! But in all seriousness, flaws and imperfections are just as important as our strengths, they make us unique!
She was one of my best friends. I was a sophomore in college and she had just started her freshman year. We were both stuck in the worst dorm – no air conditioning, small rooms, no elevator, and a bit beat up. She lived across the hall from me.
One night three of us (me, her, and another friend), were sitting in my dorm room talking. We were discussing the hardships of college. Annoying professors, exams, pressures to fit in, extracurricular activities, and all the other stuff that goes along with being in college. We somehow got on the topic of depression. I was depressed. I had been depressed since I was raped my freshman year. I opened up about it. Both of my friends were freshman (yes, I was one of the few sophomores stuck in a dorm full of freshman!) and I felt like being open to them about what I had been through and how I was feeling was important so they would know it was ok to feel down and be open about their thoughts and feelings.
Then she told me something I wasn’t really expecting. She had an eating disorder. She had seemed so happy. She seemed like she was dealing with school so well. How could I have held such a horrible stigma! I was going through my own mental health issues and had kept it hidden, people probably would have thought the same for me – how could she be depressed? She explained how she grew up in an abusive home, her brothers were still dealing with abuse, how she never wanted to eat and when she did she would purge.
I have never had an eating disorder, so I really couldn’t tell her, “I know how you feel.” I could be empathetic though. I could feel her pain. I know what it is like to deal with abuse. I know what it is like to feel out of control. I know what it is like to want control. For me, wanting to kill myself is how I attempt to gain control. When I feel out of control, the only thing I feel like I can control is if I live or die – so I feel like I need to kill myself – I feel like dying is how I can get control of my life. I take my life away, no one else can. Or cutting myself, only I can hurt myself, no one else can.
I was already in therapy, and after much convincing, my other friend and I talked with her to get her to discuss this with our college psych department. She entered therapy. However, through this she realized that the best thing to do was to take a semester off. She never returned to college though. Sometimes I feel like I ruined her chance at an education because of my stepping in, but I also know that if I hadn’t I do not know how far it might have gone and how much it would have hurt her. I am proud to say she is doing well though. She has a beautiful daughter. She is raising her on her own and providing for herself financially. She is happy and seems to be managing her eating disorder well.
People say that is what eating disorders are about – getting control. I am not sure if that is how it is for everyone. As I said, I have never had one. So if you are reading this, please comment and let me know what it is like for you. Any insight is welcome.
Recovery is a scary thought.
When you have been stuck in a depressive state or with any type of mental illness for so long, thinking about even getting better can be incredibly scary. You don’t know what to expect. Your normal has become the dysfunction that you have been living.
I had lived with depression since I was 10 years old. When I was around 22 is got pretty severe. When I was 24 it got extremely severe and after a few more diagnosis for bipolar, ptsd, and borderline personality – I eventually was what they considered to have severe mental illness. Denial came along, not wanting help happened, and not knowing how to even accept the help occurred.
I was scared of having a happy life. What was a happy life like? I was used to being sad. I was used to hating life. I was used to wanting to die. In fact, I wanted to die. Why would I want to live and be happy. That wasn’t my normal, how could that even happen? I was scared to live like that. Sure, I thought that would be cool, but it was really scary that I could even have a life like that. What would it take to get there? What would it be like? I was terrified, and quite honestly, I was not completely sure why since happiness should have been a great thing, but it just wasn’t something I was used to.
My therapists over the years have told me that for many people recovery can be scary. So I hope I am not alone in this. I have talked to some other people that have expressed the same sentiments about it. Today, I am not 100% happy. I still struggle with low grade depression. I still have fleeting suicidal thoughts. I have horrible anxiety. But, I am a lot better than before. I have only been hospitalized 2x in over 1.5 years opposed to the 15 times in 1.5 years before. I have made a lot of progress.
Recovery doesn’t seem so scary anymore.
Did you know that July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month? If not, you’re not alone. Sadly this month is often overlooked by the majority of Americans. It is a time when summer has bloomed, fireworks have entered the scene, and multiple summer parties and cook-outs are in full swing. It comes at a time of the year when so many people are outdoors, enjoying the summer time weather and penetrating sun. This lack of awareness, however, not only affects minorities struggling with mental health problems, but our society at large.
There are multiple things we need to do to bring greater awareness to minority mental health:
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Today I “graduated” from the NAMI Connection Facilitator Training! I officially can be a facilitator at my local NAMI meetings. Why am I so excited about this?
Well, first off, NAMI has been an integral part of my recovery through mental illness. I first found a NAMI Connection Group when I was in college and began having severe symptoms. I was in nursing school and had heard of it during my psychiatric clinicals. I was nervous to go as the meeting was held in the local hospital where I did my clinical and thought some of the nurses might recognize me. I went anyway, and continued to go. Meeting others that had similar diagnosis and faced similar problems in their day to day lives with me helped me tremendously. I was able to relate to them and learn new coping skills. I still struggled a lot and was in and out of hospitals, but they were there for me. I had no family in Indiana and they really became like family to me – they were my support system as I did not really have one before joining NAMI. After moving to Florida, I immediately began attending a NAMI group here. The closest one to me was about 45 minutes away at first, but I went anyway. I made such amazing friends. Another one started closer, about 30 minutes away, so I went to that one too – but I could leave my friends from the other one, so I went to both. And now a 3rd one is even closer, only 15-20 minutes away. And I have trained to become a facilitator for that group, as I want to step up and grow within the organization which has helped me so much.
So, what exactly is NAMI? NAMI is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. It is the largest mental health grassroots organization. It has local affiliates all over the US and Puerto Rico. There is most likely one in your area – and you can go to http://www.nami.org to find out if there is one. They run all types of educational programs. They have support groups for people with mental illness (NAMI Connection), support groups for family members of people with mental illness (Family to Family), educational classes for people with mental illness (Peer to Peer), educational classes for family members (also called Family to Family), educational class for parents of children with mental illness (NAMI Basics), and many other services depending on what your local chapter might also offer.
Support groups are important to our success when we are trying to recover with mental illness, whether it be through NAMI or another organization. Whether we feel great or bad, attending them helps us. It helps us focus on how to continue to focus on the positives, how to socialize and not isolate, how to help others which in turn makes us feel good, how to learn new coping skills, how to examine our own needs, and how to express ourselves in healthy ways. Someone once told me, when you feel like you want to go to a meeting you should go, and when you feel like you don’t want to go to a meeting, you need to go. They said this because generally, if you don’t want to go, that is when you really need to go – you are isolating or feeling depressed, and being around people and hearing the support they can give is what you most likely need.
I hope that if you are not already involved in a local support group, you find one and check it out. There are many out there. A few that I know of are DBSA (Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America. Depending on your area, these organizations might or might not run groups or another organization might have groups too.