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The Michigan Daily > Columns

Talk about mental health

November 6, 2017

For individuals struggling with mental health, everything life throws at them during college doesn’t exactly help.

Maybe friends pressure me to go out, but saying, “I’m sad, I really don’t want to,” does not feel like a good enough excuse. Thoughts of losing out on a memorable night influence me to go out, and when I do go, chances are I feel worse. Maybe I have a mandatory meeting for a club on campus, but being sad won’t suffice as a good excuse for my group leader. And on the off chance I say I’m sick, I fear someone seeing me on the Diag and spreading rumors that I was not actually sick. When I email my professor for an extension for a deadline I could not meet because I had too much on my mind, he will probably respond with my score: a zero. 

 

The implications surrounding mental health on campus limit our conversations surrounding this issue. As students, we think school comes before everything. We are not taught to take a “mental health day.” It is only when we are physically unwell that we believe it is acceptable to miss a class or a deadline. The stigma we put on mental health as bystanders, sufferers and friends prevents us from openly discussing the topic and taking advantage of the few resources (that are already over capacity) available on campus.

For many students, mental health is compromised during their time at the University of Michigan, and often mental unwellness is exacerbated during stressful periods of the school year. We are constantly taught throughout our lives by our professors, parents and friends that we need to be cognizant of the mental health conditions of others. But we aren’t taught how to talk a roommate through a breakdown or how to stand up for our classmates who are dealing with mental illness.

Mental health is something that is different for each individual. Recognizing these differences is essential when conversing with a friend in crisis and making them feel OK to pour it all out. Some people never experience the anxiety, depression or other ailments that others have to deal with every day. When a classmate or friend is clearly upset and going through a lot, the common response from bystanders is “that sucks; I’m so sorry.”

Though this is clearly not what the suffering person needs to hear, I often find myself at a loss for words when someone tells me about all the bad things that are happening to them. There is no way to know how these experiences directly affect them or what is going through their head or how they feel in that exact moment. Everyone experiences hardship so differently that we cannot assume anything about anyone else, and that’s what makes this issue so hard to deal with.

As someone who struggles with anxiety, it is hard to let people in on what is really going on in my mind. What might not seem like a huge deal for one individual can be immensely different for another. To make it worse, being thousands of miles away from your family and constantly surrounded by strangers does not exactly make for a welcoming environment.

I have found several resources that discuss how to go about talking to a peer about their symptoms, but the results were inconclusive. And what if these formulaic steps don’t work? We all take things differently, and a cookie-cutter plan to make someone feel comforted in a stressful situation does not always work. Spontaneity is important, and catering to an individual’s needs is essential in making them feel trusted and welcomed confiding in you.

Mental health is even more essential to our growth as individuals because, without it, we are constantly in a state of discontent that is unproductive. As university students, we need to recognize that we all have moments of stress, despair and anxiety. Though we might not experience these things in the same way, it is important to validate the feelings of others and to let them know they are not alone. It is OK to voice the issues with mental health in society. This will allow us to come together and beat the stigma surrounding this valid illness, so we can all get the resources we need.

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