Google “college advice” and you’ll get bombarded with different articles: how to avoid the freshman 15, how to study for final exams, and how to dress for the first day of class. You won’t find as many articles about handling mental health issues in college, because – let’s face it – it’s not as fun or easy to talk about. However, it’s about 100 times more important.
Over the past week, the very public suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have pushed the discussion of mental health to the forefront. You’ve probably heard their loved ones say things like, “I had no idea they were struggling.” That’s because, very often, people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental illness won’t volunteer that information. Let’s change that.
By changing the way we think and talk about mental health, especially in high school and college, we can help end the stigma. By making mental health, and thus mental illness, part of our everyday conversation, we can start to make the topic as approachable as physical health.
So what are some things we can all start to do?
Think about mental health as a spectrum.
It’s important to stop thinking about mental health as a black & white issue. Instead of grouping people into two groups, mentally “healthy” and mentally “sick,” try to view mental health as spectrum – one on which everyone is on. By acknowledging that everyone has ups and downs, we can also accept that struggles are completely normal (and temporary!).
Check in with your friends.
Check in with your friends who seem sad and withdrawn, and check in with your friends who seem happy and “normal.” Check in with the friend who is going through a hard time, and check in with the friend who seems to be succeeding in everything. Remember, no one is immune to things like anxiety and depression, so your friends who “have it all” still might need someone.
While you can’t spend all your time making sure your friends are okay, the buddy system can go a long way. Make sure the people you love know you love them and are there for them.
Share your own stories.
Normalize life’s inevitable “low points” by speaking of your own. While you don’t owe it to anyone to share your struggles, doing so can help others experiencing something similar. If you can speak about your valleys while you’re experiencing life’s peaks, you can show others that a) both are normal and b) things DO get better.
Plus, sharing your own stories will help the people around you feel more comfortable sharing theirs. Sharing can be incredibly cathartic.
Self-care can get a bad rap. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t simply mean ditching all your responsibilities and taking a nap instead. Self-care simply means taking time to do what “refills your cup.” It means recharging and refreshing by doing something you enjoy, whatever that is. Give yourself time every day to do something that makes you feel good! That could be as simple as a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, or taking a bubble bath and going to bed early.
We all do things to improve our physical health, whether that’s eating right, getting enough sleep, or exercising. Why should mental health be any different? Prioritize your “me time” and encourage your loved ones to do the same.
If your loved one is struggling, reach out. Even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable, start the conversation. Ask them what you can do. Listen to them. Help them make a doctor’s appointment or find another resource. Take them seriously, and trust your gut if you feel like something is wrong.
When someone is struggling with mental illness, reaching out can be incredibly hard or intimidating. You can be the catalyst that helps them get help and feel better.
High school and college are both stressful times, and they can often be lonely. While they’re filled with happy times, they’re filled with just as many not-so-happy times. Struggling with your mental health doesn’t make you strange, it makes you human. Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t let your friends suffer in silence either.