By James Yeary
There is no doubt that college is one of the most challenging parts of life – changes in self-image, work load, social experience and goals are constant and pressing. What many do not realize is that it is also the most important point of life when it comes to mental health.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 24. One of the most stressful times of our lives is also the most delicate, and many college students find themselves dealing with issues like depression, anxiety and addiction.
Some Hofstra students were willing to share their stories.
The first person I spoke to is a sophomore who has lived with depression and anxiety for almost a decade.
Q: The first thing I’m interested in is your story: when was the first time you felt that way, and how frequent has it been since?
A: I started to show symptoms of depression and anxiety when I was around 10 years old. I remember my first panic attack very clearly; I was at recess in the fifth grade and I just dropped to the ground and couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that that was actually a panic attack. Since then, my depression and anxiety have been a constant presence in my everyday life. I have some good days and some bad days.
Q: Why do you think people are afraid to get help?
A: I think that for the most part people are afraid to get help because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. If a person breaks their leg, they take time off of work, go to the doctor and get it fixed. No one thinks that it’s their fault or that they’re odd for that happening. It is not so simple with mental illness.
Q: Do you think that the counseling available on college campuses is helpful?
A: I believe that counseling helps many people, but it is not the right thing for everyone. I met with a counselor at the Saltzman Center and he was very nice and tried his best to be helpful, but all he had to offer were different exercises to help cope that I was already aware of due to my many years of experience with therapy. Everyone has a different thing that works for them, and counseling is the best option for some people.
The second person I spoke with is a junior majoring in public relations, who attributes their life to the help that they’ve received from counseling services.
Q: I’d love to get your overall thoughts on mental health and your relation to it.
A: I go to a group at student health and counseling with Dr. Rinaldi. It’s for people struggling with addictions. It’s absolutely incredible. I genuinely believe that I would either be dead or a heroin addict today if it were not for this group. And yet no one ever goes. This is going on to my second year of going to this group.
Q: Why do you think mental illness is something that people are afraid to talk about?
A: I feel like people are really comfortable with talking about it at a surface level. It seems like everyone jokes about being depressed and dead inside , but then Dr. Rinaldi is struggling to get people to come to groups like the one I go to.
Q: Do you think that people joking about it makes them take it less seriously?
A: I think it is more like they have these very serious feelings but that they do not know how to handle them.
– I can understand that, because college is a hard time to begin with.
A: College is like a cesspool for germs and everyone is always getting sick all the time. But the same thing goes for mental health. College is a really draining and distressing time. I think that there is this impression that if you are suffering from depression and anxiety, that that is it. I can attest to the fact that life really does get better. But what people don’t realize is that you cannot just wait for it to get better. You have to go get the required help.
What I took most from this interview was the fact that on-campus counseling has the ability to help certain people if they have the strength to come forward and seek help. The last two years have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of students seeking mental health assistance from counselors, which could be seen as a positive sign of the issue being destigmatized.
Both of the people I spoke with also showed me that these issues are inconsistent by nature; their effects can vary from day to day and year to year. The biggest challenge that this represents is the fact that everyone is different, which leads to different solutions being effective for different people. This makes it an issue that is impossible to cure across the board with one broad solution; the best that we as a generation can do now is to continue to learn people’s stories and remove the fear of discussing mental health.