This is a sponsored post. I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own.
Before we start, I need you to understand that every photo in this article is a photo of Summer either living with severe postpartum depression or crippling anxiety. I tell you this, because up until a couple years ago, unless you were my healthcare provider, it’s likely you didn’t know I had any sort of mental health struggle, but I do. And I have since childhood.
When I was about 3 years old, I vividly remember skipping down the hallway of a hospital holding the hands of both my parents who were swinging me down the hall to the count of 1, 2, 3! It’s so weird to think back on because I’m not sure it’s something they would even remember, but it is one of my earliest memories, and it is directly attached to my struggle with anxiety. My tummy always hurt and I couldn’t eat, no matter how much they wanted me to. I remember taking small bites of food then having to lie down for a while before I could return to my plate.
I eventually learned to disassociate myself from my surroundings, a wholly mentally unhealthy thing to do, and I’m still dealing with the repercussions of those fabricated walls. I don’t recall dealing with depression or anxiety much through the rest of my childhood, teen years, or even into early adulthood. I went through plenty of hard times, I struggled with being a single mom and with finances, but I did what needed to be done and didn’t think twice about it. Postpartum depression hit me hard after Madilyn was born, but like everything else in my life, I dealt with it and moved on.
It wasn’t until several years ago when Kyle was adopting Styles that anxiety returned with a vengeance. Thirty years after my parents swung me down a hospital hallway, it engulfed me. The trigger was my ex threatening to kidnap Styles because the adoption wasn’t happening fast enough. That’s all it took to send me spiraling back into a life of anxiety that I’ve yet to recover from.
I’ve noticed similar behaviors in my children, and it makes my chest feel tight to think about knowing any of my kids are in distress, especially mental distress. The physical is so easy to talk about, the mental? It just isn’t.
The mental health of my teenager has been something that has weighed heavy on my mind for years now. With teen suicide and self-harm on the rise, I have always wanted to know that he’s as safe inside his own head as he could possibly be. We’ve sought counseling, and I encourage him to talk to me whenever he needs to, I encourage him to find a group of peers he can express his deepest emotions to, but at the end of the day, have I done enough?
That’s the problem with mental illness, it doesn’t like to show itself to other people. It lies to its inhabitants, making them believe they are alone in this world. I know when my kids are having a hard time, so having them home with me, under my own roof felt safe.
I can’t keep them here forever, though, and as the universe would have it, I just sent my teen away to college. The month before he left was extremely emotional for me. I had so many questions, and I just wanted to know that he was really okay before I sent him off to the wolves, but more than anything, I was just so proud that through my own struggles with dissociation and anxiety, that I was able to raise a young man that I’m so incredibly proud of.
When he decided which college he was going to attend, one of the first things I did was to see if they had a mental health facility for its students. It truly was one of the most important factors to me. If I can’t be there, I want my son to know there is somewhere he can go if he needs to talk to someone.
During our orientation, there was an entire session on the mental health facility at FSU. After the session, I was dismayed to hear so many parents of other students talking about what a waste of time that session was. There was boasting about how their family doesn’t struggle with “such mess”, there were parents lamenting about how if people just went to church they wouldn’t struggle with mental illness, and still more saying their student wouldn’t ever need to use those facilities.
There was more, but I think these comments paint a pretty vivid picture of why mental illness lives under a shroud. It’s shameful, it doesn’t happen to the pious, and we deny that it exists. These are all lies. Having a mental illness is no more shameful than having cancer, nobody is immune from its effects, and it most definitely exists. If the students of these parents actually suffer from some sort of mental illness, I hope they know where they can seek help.
We do our society a disservice by pretending it doesn’t exist or affect us in some way. Mental Illness doesn’t always look like someone hiding under a blanket sleeping all day. It very often looks like the person who always has to be in the spotlight, like the person cracking jokes that give you side stitches, or like the person sitting next to you that you’ve known for ages but have no idea is struggling, like me in all of these pictures.
We have to talk about it, the more we normalize and remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, the healthier our communities will be. When we open space for others to speak up about their truth, we all win. The reality is that if you don’t personally suffer with some sort of mental illness at some point in your life, someone you know has, they just haven’t felt safe enough to tell you about it.
It’s important as parents for us to prepare our children for their next stage in life which includes looking ahead at things that may affect them that didn’t necessarily affect us. Teaching them these things will also give them the tools to help the people around them when they need help. We also have to constantly check in with ourselves and evaluate how we could be doing better. I could always be doing better, and sometimes it hurts to admit, which is exactly when I know I’ve found an area of personal growth that I need to focus on. Setting those examples to our students will help them be better humans than we could have ever dreamed of being.
College is stressful enough without having to worry about what people might think of you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. I constantly remind my son that I’m here for him if he needs to talk, and I insisted on his having a “check up from the neck up” before he left for college. I really just wanted to know that he was okay and that he knew where he could get help if he ever needed it.
Turns out what I should have taught him is what to do in the event you leave your debit card at IHOP, but that’s a different story.
If you’re sending a child to college soon, check out the mental health resources listed below to put your own mind at ease, and maybe, just maybe to save the life of a college student who believes there’s no way out.
Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.
- Transitioning from High School to College: https://www.settogo.org/
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – This download discusses college and mental health as they pertain to one another: https://www.nami.org/collegeguide/download
- Slide Presentation by John F. Greden, MD, Founder and Executive Director, University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center on Mental Health in College – There is some great information regarding stress that all parents should see here: https://med-iq.sharefile.com/share/view/sbcefae14d8f4bda8
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