As I lay in bed past 2 a.m. on an early Monday morning, my mind is racing.
A week of classes, deadlines, club and social obligations await me. Any discovered free time will likely, in reality, be procrastination.
In addition to these immediate concerns are more lingering ones. I graduate in less than seven months and need to find a job in my field. My stash of cash from working full-time over the summer is slowly dwindling, and I need to either slow my spending or pick up a part-time job. My eating and exercise habits have slipped since the semester started in August.
I do not consider myself to be a depressed person, but I am often anxious. I worry and stress about the future. I compare myself to others. I strive to build strong relationships and complete satisfactory work, and when I fall short, I tear myself down.
My mental health is not where it needs to be. Yours may not be either.
One in three college freshmen display signs of coping with a mental health disorder. On the condition of anonymity, several students last week talked to the Talon about their struggles with depression and anxiety and how being on a Christian campus impacted their recovery.
While I will never know the names of the people who spoke with Elise, I imagine they are people I walk past every day. People who on the outside appear normal and happy, but internally are struggling. I am sometimes one of these people.
I am writing not as a mental health or counseling professional, but as a 22-year-old senior who can empathize with the subject of mental health. If you are struggling, I encourage you to reach out to the counseling center—it will be much more cumbersome and expensive to get counseling help after you graduate. But regardless if you struggle with these issues or not, I believe it is important to consider how we approach the topic of mental health on the Oklahoma Christian University campus.
First, a few misconceptions.
There is no catch-all cure for depression or anxiety. Perhaps you have had friends or family members suggest you “go outside” or “be around people.” While not necessarily bad or ill-intended advice, this is a drastic oversimplification, similar to telling a person with the flu to eat some chicken noodle soup and stay indoors.
There is also no qualifying cause for depression. A person with seemingly everything in life—wealth, great friends, supportive family, a loving significant other—is not immune. There is often much more to a person than what they present on their Instagram profile.
There are several more misconceptions, but we must press forward. As students and not mental health professionals, how do we approach the issue of mental health?
The first step is knocking down the stigma. While great strides have been made in this area in recent years, there is real pressure on this campus to present a happy image at all times.
Instead of putting on a facade and breaking down in moments of solitude, we should be more real. Reach out to your friends and ask how they are really doing. Build a small network of support. I have personally been blessed by a few close friends I can share my true feelings with.
Secondly, we should make an effort to be more kind and empathetic toward others. A friend canceling plans or a classmate failing to follow through on a project can be frustrating, but what they often need at that moment is words of encouragement, not criticism. An offhanded comment which seems innocent at the moment can do real damage.
Last but not least, we should recognize it is perfectly OK to make time for ourselves. Go to your favorite coffee shop, buy some new clothes or take a calming stroll along the Oklahoma Christian trail. Not every waking hour needs to be spent studying or helping out your club.
Mental health issues will never be fully eradicated at Oklahoma Christian, or any college campus for that matter. But by fostering an encouraging campus community, where we do not shy away from addressing depression and anxiety and reach out friends who may appear fine on the outside, we can chip away at it over time. A little effort can go a long way.