It took me four years to accept the fact that I was depressed, that I am depressed.
The social pressure that we place on individuals to act, seem and be mentally stable is a direct factor in the counter-productive reality of our nation’s mental health progress. As we feel the need to outwardly present as someone without mental health conditions, the ability to admit we do have any condition grows slim. I know this first hand.
As an activist working to continue creating social change, I had always felt the need to be portrayed as someone mentally healthy in order to be taken seriously. I had felt that it was impossible to advocate for mental health when I was dealing with my own conditions, so I told myself a lie.
This unhealthy habit is what so many of the students throughout higher education know too well. In order to maintain the respect and social standing we’ve worked for throughout our education, admitting we are living with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or anything else seems impossible.
This stigma and reality of so many students needs to end, before another life does.
A vital portion of removing the stigma around mental health on college campuses includes beginning the discussion of the topic itself. We often mask mental health as something a quick trip to the counselor could fix, completely ignoring the fact that there are not enough counselors on this campus to help all who truly need it.
The avoidance of the discussion also continually leads to misunderstanding. Opening the conversation to an honest and open platform will allow students and staff to comprehend the complex nature of mental health. Non-medical majors should not expect to grasp every aspect of mental health, but we are still able to understand that it’s much more than simply, choosing to be sad.
Beyond open discussions, ending mental health stigma also comes to individuals allowing themselves to feel their emotions. Years ago, “feeling my emotions” might have seemed like an unnecessary move when there was so much to do in so little time. Years later however, I understand the importance of allowing natural emotions to be expressed, considered and dealt with. The further we continue to push down our thoughts, the more pressure builds within us.
There is no answer I can provide to mental health, since this is certainly not a one-size-fits-all topic. Also, the steps to destigmatize mental health on college campuses is a complex journey each campus must begin at various places.
What I can call for is two things: (1) we must all commit to holding a continuous conversation and dedication to ending the stigma of mental health, and (2) we must begin or continue the journey of allowing ourselves to be “human.” It’s great to be okay, mentally healthy, but it is also okay to not be okay.