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It’s the lying awake: Mental health on college campuses

It’s the lying awake at night agonizing and scrutinizing every little thing you have done in the day. It’s the scheduling of plans to finally leave your bed to hang out with friends only knowing full well you are going to cancel. You want to be social. You want to leave the crippling state that is compelling you to stay in the comfort of your bed. But you know you won’t go out to dinner. So you send a text;

“Hey guys, I can’t make it. I don’t feel well.” It’s not a complete lie.

Bobbing your knee and tapping your pen to a rhythm that you have grown accustomed to. What is this sort of torture? It’s living with depression and anxiety.

It’s knowing that you are the president of your esteemed club on campus, and you have to be happy and peppy for it. You tell yourself, ‘I only need to muster enough energy to engage in mindless conversation for just an hour.’ Think of happy thoughts, whatever that is. Twirling your ring around your finger for the entirety of class. Bobbing your knee and tapping your pen to a rhythm that you have grown accustomed to. What is this sort of torture? It’s living with depression and anxiety.

We are taught from a young age when the appropriate time is to show emotion for a particular situation. When someone close to you dies, it’s normal to cry. Before a job interview at a place you have dreamed of working at, you might feel a tinge of anxiety. When your partner cheats on you, the rage you are filled with is completely appropriate. You see, the problem with depression and anxiety is those emotions don’t just pop up, and leave when the tragedy is over. They stay. When you get those sudden bursts of joy, you know you better hold on to them for dear life, because they are fleeting. Imagine living with that rain cloud constantly over your head, and amplify that with whatever college decides to pile on you. Deadlines, presentations, clubs and organizations, speeches and late nights at the library to cram a semester’s worth of work into one night. It’s tough on anyone’s mental state.  

Kelli Carmack and Julieann Cody, both students at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP), each deal with anxiety and depression on a daily basis. However, the root causes of these issues are entirely different for each.

Carmack, a junior at USFSP, said her family history of mental health issues is the root cause of her anxiety. Her grandmother takes medication to cope with depression, and this is the route Carmack too decided to take. Carmack was bullied in high school and was also dealing with anxiety. Carmack decided to continue her schooling online in 11th grade.

Carmack said that in the spring semester she was involved in the Harborside Activities Board (HAB), Her Campus and a broadcast journalism club.

“That’s when my panic attacks started,” Carmack said. “I think it was too much for me to handle. That was the same time I went on medication, and ever since then, I have been able to handle more.” Once Carmack realized she needed additional help coping with her anxiety, she was able to tackle a more rigorous workload.

“Now I’m the vice president of HAB, the co-president of Her Campus and vice president of She’s the First,” Carmack said.

Cody, a senior at USFSP, has a different story. She started to feel depressed at age 15 due to years of sexual abuse by her stepfather. That year she was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. She feels life has been an uphill battle since.  

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, anxiety is the top concern among college students at 41.6 percent, followed by depression at 36.4 percent.

Depression and anxiety can feel isolating. It’s a disease that is unique from person to person. However, it affects many. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, anxiety is the top concern among college students at 41.6 percent, followed by depression at 36.4 percent. The survey found that 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern for their center or on campus.

USFSP’s Wellness Center offers training on recognizing the signs of depression and suicide risk. Photo courtesy of Haley Jordan/Connect.

The Wellness Center is a resource at USFSP where students can go if they are struggling and need help beyond what they can provide for themselves. The purpose of the Wellness Center is to provide mental health, health and health education services to USFSP students. The Wellness Center prides itself on creating a safe, inclusive and affirming environment.

One service that the Wellness Center provides is Question, Persuade, Infer (QPR) training. The idea of the trainings is that if more people are skilled to look for warning signs and can intervene early, less suicide attempts would take place. Being that depression is prevalent on college campuses, these sessions can prove important.

“There are resources, but they aren’t marketed enough, and they are very limited,” Carmack said when asked about support services on campus. “I’ve never utilized the resources, but I think it’s because I haven’t heard of them.”

Dr. Anita Sahgal, a licensed clinical psychologist and director at the Wellness Center, hosted one of the QPR trainings held in the Wellness Center. Her QPR training was targeted at early detection and suicide awareness. Suicide risk can be an unfortunate reality to those who know depression all too well. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-aged students.

“Since the traditional college student population is at risk for suicide, it is very helpful for people on campus to understand these issues and know how to use these skills to help others,” Dr. Sahgal said about her QPR trainings.

But what does depression and anxiety look like? It’s not just the kid that sits alone at lunch anymore. If you go about your day smiling and laughing, people might have the perception that your life is perfect, and you could not possibly be struggling internally. You can’t possibly be dealing with never-ending thoughts of inadequacy. When you have depression and anxiety, you often lose control over your thoughts and emotions. Looking “put together,” and having your hair perfectly curled might be the only thing you have any control over.

Even though it’s important to take note of those around you and always remain sensitive to these illnesses, don’t think that they are limiting. Depression and anxiety might be a part of someone’s life, but it does not define them. Cody urges people not to view her any differently because of her mental health.

I wish people knew how bad I want to be understood,” Cody said. “I want to be listened to without judgement. I wish these topics weren’t taboo or ‘unpopular.’ I want to be able to speak about my depression, or speak about my anxiety, without fear of being told it isn’t real.”

The stigma surrounding depression and anxiety can make it harder for those with mental illness to overcome them. People who struggle on a daily basis, trapped in their own heads and self doubts, but still keep up the facade that you are used to seeing, live difficult lives. These people are not “blowing things out of proportion” or “being overly dramatic.” Knowing that you want to be happy, and you want to stop over-analyzing minute details, but you physically can’t, is exhausting. Feeling like your body is not yours and betraying you can push a person to want to give up. When you don’t, and you power on to wake up the next day, and continue living the best way possible, it is extremely courageous.

“Have you ever met someone who survived suicidal tendencies? They are literally the strongest people I know. To defeat an enemy you can’t even see is the strongest thing you can do.” – Julieann Cody

“I hate that people think that anxiety and depression somehow make you weak,” Cody said. “Uhhh, have you ever met someone who survived suicidal tendencies? They are literally the strongest people I know. To defeat an enemy you can’t even see is the strongest thing you can do.”

Sometimes you wake up in the morning just to go back to bed. Sometimes you cry uncontrollably for no reason. Sometimes you pull your hair when you’re anxious. These are just normal days for people that struggle with mental illness, and they’ll have more of them. Depression and anxiety don’t have a face, and often you don’t know what it looks like. Students on campus may not fit the bill of what society has deemed as “depressed.” More resources need to be accessible to these students, and if there are trainings and workshops, more students need to be made aware of them. As widely common as these mental illnesses are, not enough is being done about them. College is hard. Life is hard. Being trapped in your own head is even harder.

TagsCraig

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