In my column: “Well-being Wednesdays,” I’ve written about my mental health struggles, talked with a counselor about counseling services on campus and highlighted transgender voices on campus. Each article was filled with lots of information, but what do we do with that information? How do we move forward with these stories and resources and move to a better and healthier future?
As I go about my day, I observe behaviors from other students that signal how they are feeling. Whether they are severely struggling or completely fine, I want to know what others go through. Most importantly, I want to know how they cope with their issues when I find myself struggling to do so.
Caught between the persistent anxiety that washes over me at random times and the intense internal battle of feeling like I don’t know who I am – I find myself wondering how others around me feel.
To answer this question, I asked students, via an anonymous form, what mental health struggles they have and how they cope with them.
Being diagnosed with depression in June of 2022 opened my eyes to a different world. I went from feeling completely helpless and not knowing what was wrong, to having a diagnosis that enabled me to be put on antidepressants. Receiving the diagnosis and being put on medication can be very difficult to deal with, especially if the environment around you isn’t supportive of the diagnosis or your mental health as a whole. However, understanding why depression happens can be even more of a challenge.
According to Verywell Mind, neurotransmitters within the brain are like mailbox keys. Each one unlocks certain receptors on neurons to allow the “message” to keep traveling. With a diagnosis of depression, there is an issue with the neurotransmitters receiving the “message” or just not using the “message” correctly.
Verywell Mind states that “there’s either no key for the lock, the key isn’t used properly, or the lock is broken.”
Taking medications can also be a challenging process because of the wide variety of options and side effects that may come with them. In an anonymous survey, a student of Albion College shared their experiences with antidepressants.
“I was hospitalized during my last year of middle school. Now I’ve been taking antidepressants for over four years, and am starting to feel the repercussions of long-term prescription drug use,” said an anonymous student via Google form.
According to the National Library of Medicine, long-term effects of antidepressants can vary from minor side-effects lasting longer than the average period – lower sex drive and/or difficulties in sexual activities, feeling emotionally numb and caring less about people – alongside other effects such as weight gain and problems with blood sugar regulation.
However, according to Verywell Mind, if you’re experiencing long-term adverse effects, “a significant number of individuals participate in therapy concurrently with their use of antidepressants.”
Six out of seven students who responded to the survey said they struggled with depression.
“I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a child,” said an anonymous student via Google form. “It started as just normal childhood anxiety and grew into something more as I grew up, gained more responsibilities, expectations, etc.”
I experience anxiety daily, but for a long time I didn’t know what I was feeling. All I knew was I would get this subtle yet overwhelming wave of worry. I didn’t know why it was happening; I felt like my world was falling apart. Coming to college didn’t help that feeling – everything I did academically contributed to the success or failure of my degree. That kind of pressure is intimidating – and I’m not the only one who’s felt it.
“The combination of anxiety in self-established pressure for academic greatness, fear of impending failure and the eerie feeling of never living up to potential as well as drowning in your thoughts of lackluster expectations plus the odd but irrefutable cycle of ADHD (hyper) awareness (or lack thereof) and monthly cycle of depressive episodes, it creates a cocktail of existential dread for the average Albion College student,” said an anonymous student via Google form.
According to a 2018 study conducted by the American College Health Association, 63% of college students experienced overwhelming anxiety that year. However, only 23% reported being diagnosed or treated by a mental health professional for anxiety. Many factors contribute to this increased anxiety when attending college: Sleep disruption, loneliness and academic pressure from the institution.
Another student who responded on the Google form said they deal with “mental overload/decision fatigue and lack of motivation” because of their workload, especially this semester.
According to the Harvard Health Blog, college students today appear to be more stressed and anxious than ever before and, “anxiety levels have increased in recent years, especially among young adults.”
Personally, the COVID-19 pandemic is what set my anxiety off. Attending college five months after the initial shutdown only increased that anxiety because of the limited opportunities for academic success. As someone who messed up their high school GPA and yearned for a chance to prove herself, I felt that COVID-19 completely ruined that chance. Even if academics weren’t the biggest issue during that time, it still took a mental toll. Nevertheless, the class of 2024 persevered through the initial worry and now here we are, five months from graduation.
But how do we, and others, cope with our mental health struggles?
When facing mental health challenges, simple coping strategies make a significant difference. My coping skills include deep breathing, hanging out with friends, visiting my niece and watching my favorite movies and TV shows. My advice would be to not hesitate to reach out to friends, family or professionals for support. Having open conversations about your emotions is the first step to building that support system.
I asked students to anonymously provide me with their coping strategies anonymously via Google form. These were their responses:
“I try my best to remind myself that everything is going to be OK, and that I’m safe, and try to adjust what I can within circumstances I can control.”
“In my years of experience with being in my mind and body, I’ve found putting a voice, giving a name to what ails me in those moments. In other words, writing down whatever is currently putting my mind in a frenzy and my productivity on pause helps me immensely. Writing focuses on my thoughts and actions, clears my mind and helps me deal with whatever is currently bothering me, journaling, scribbling on sticky notes, writing something quick to throw away later, a random index card or whatever. Put whatever is on your mind on a page and feel the relief of clarity wash over.”
“My main coping skills are resorting to making or listening to music and coloring. Over the past few years trying to find a stable place for my mentality, I have found that music, which is also my major, benefits me greatly, whether I’m listening to music or making it. I have also spent some time investing in coloring books. I found the calm and quiet activity of coloring, by myself or with others, really helps my anxiety and brings me back down to Earth when I feel like I’m spiraling.”
“Sometimes I need to be alone, other times I need people around me to keep reminding me that they don’t hate me. I also struggle with disassociation and when that happens the best way to get out of it is to work out because I can feel my body again.”
“Making a list/writing everything down, taking a night off – even if I’m super busy, a drive/cry, deep breaths”
“ (I) call my best friend to help calm me down, listen to music or cry.”
“ (I) watch my comfort show, ‘Criminal Minds.’”
Amidst mental health challenges, we as students need to take care of ourselves. Navigating college, mental health and other aspects of life is not an easy task. Unfortunately, we don’t always receive the empathy or acknowledgment we deserve and are often handed even more to deal with; this is when we need to emphasize our own well-being.
I started this column to do just that: Acknowledge my own mental health struggles as well as amplify student voices across campus, embracing the reality that managing our mental health and healing from trauma is not linear. I hope my experiences help you realize you’re not alone.
Together, we can champion a culture of empathy, understanding and support, ensuring that every student has the tools not just to survive, but to thrive in the pursuit of both their academic and emotional well-being.