I am more than just a college student. I am college student who suffers from anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Growing up, I have studied at six different schools and learned more than I would have ever thought possible.
What I never learned, however, was how to find support for one of the most important aspects of my life. I have not found understanding, and sometimes even compassion, for something that has nearly diminished my ability to learn anything.
My schools taught me about the significance of proper fitness and nutrition — none of them taught me about mental health.
No teacher ever told me that one day I might hate everything about myself. No class ever prepared me for the days when I could not get out of bed. My professors never addressed the possibility that there may come a day when I could not eat, or a morning when I would wake up wanting to die.
This is not to say that schools do not provide any resources for students struggling with their mental health. Most schools provide counseling, 24/7 advice nurses and on-call psychiatrists.
What schools do not provide, however, are enough ways for students to learn about mental health.
I usually don’t have someone to turn to for help who is not a trained professional. Even my best friends cannot begin to relate to or understand the severity of my mental health issues.
They can help me write a paper, solve a difficult math problem or enhance my resume.
They cannot, however, offer even the slightest advice on how to help me stop crying or to get me out of bed in the morning.
I do not blame them for this. Mental health problems are difficult to understand if you are not experiencing them.
I do, however, blame the education system because all too often, it sweeps the topic of mental health under the rug.
If one in five adults experience a mental health issue at some point, why is it that students seem only to be learning about proper grammar and complicated mathematical equations?
Growing up, I believed that incessant anxiety was a normal part of life. I thought it was normal to feel fat despite being underweight. I thought it was normal to cry daily. I did not know that mental health issues existed.
It was not until last fall that I realized that something was very wrong with me. It was not until this spring that I was finally diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, depression and OCD.
It is only after almost 10 months of weekly therapy, visits to my psychiatrist and daily prescription medication use that I am finally beginning to come to terms with this. After many years of suffering, I am beginning to understand why I feel this way and how to detect when other people are, too.
Still, too many other students don’t know about any of this. No one believed me when I told them I was depressed, no one recognized the telltale signs of my severe mental health issues and no one knew how to help.
It was through my own research that I learned that more people die from suicide rather than homicide each year and that one in every 10 Americans takes antidepressants. It was through my own research that I learned that I was not crazy and that I was not alone.
Rather than simply teaching students where to place a comma and the capital of every state, schools should also dedicate time to educating students about mental health. This way, even if students are lucky enough to never struggle with their mental health, they will at least be aware of other people’s mental health concerns. If they are unfortunate enough to suffer a mental health issue, they might be more prepared or less embarrassed to tell someone. This way, we can raise awareness and provide students with the help they need.
Sagine Philitas, 21, of Norwalk, is a senior majoring in public relations at the University of Connecticut.
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