Broaching the Difficult Subject that is Mental Health

Let’s get this out of the way: college is hard. There’s so much to do, from moving in, to making friends, to finding time to study for all five midterms that were somehow scheduled on the same day. Oftentimes, we forget to take a moment for ourselves. It has become the norm to study through the nights. It is even something we brag about to our friends. We pull all-nighters and chug coffee like it’s our job and feel guilty for going to sleep before midnight when there’s work we could be doing. This mentality that continuously plagues college students is exactly what that verb connotes: unhealthy, sickly, contagious. And it’s time to talk about that.

Mental health is something we seldom talk about seriously. We rarely talk about the detriments of all-nighters, focusing only of the results they produce. With tired eyes, we admit that we studied all night and still made it to our 8:30 class. We reach for our third coffee before noon and open our fully-charged laptop. According to an article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2014, “the consequences of sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness are especially problematic to college students and can result in lower grade point averages, increased risk of academic failure, compromised learning, impaired mood and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.” 

We see this every day. We see this in a friend from freshman year who showed up to class in the same clothes he wore the day before because he slept in the library. We see it in our friend who stress bakes muffins at 11:00 PM because she got overwhelmed with work, and sleep is nowhere in sight. We see it in friends who begin to distance themselves from the things they once loved, citing work and stress as the primary reasons for leaving their beloved extra-curriculars. Mental health is something we joke about on the internet but when it comes to actually talking about what is wrong, suddenly it’s not so easy.

According to the American Psychological Association, 35 percent of the 14,000 respondents from 19 different college reported symptoms consistent with at least one mental health disorder. Major depressive disorder was the most common, followed by generalized anxiety disorder. So, if so many students seem to be suffering from these disorders, why is it so hard for us to talk about?

I don’t have the answer to that. In fact, I don’t think that anyone does. But I do think it’s something we have to work on. Talking about mental health is hard, but it’s important to normalize having that conversation. Pulling all-nighters may seem like a universal college experience, but it shouldn’t be. Being stressed is a given, but students shouldn’t have so much on their plate that they’re strongly encouraged to take a leave of absence by the University to circumvent a mental breakdown. And while our friends (and ourselves) become overwhelmed with work, social and academic, we take to the internet and social media to joke about our mental disorders, because that’s how we’ve learned to cope. 

According to the American Psychological Association, only 15-20 percent of students will actually seek help from their respective counseling centers. This shouldn’t be that low. At Villanova University, approximately 16 percet of the student population utilizes the counseling center during their time as a student, according to the University’s Counseling center. This number fits right in with the way-too-low national average, and we should do something about it. 

It’s hard to affect change both online and on-campus. I personally would much rather joke about how stressed I am than actually talk about what is sincerely bothering me. It’s far easier to take to Twitter and retweet that video of the three people dancing in a circle with the caption “my depression, anxiety and stress all coming to keep me up at night.” The way we talk about mental illness normalizes suffering, which is why we need to change the conversation.

It’s time to start checking in on our friends and having real conversations. Mental illness is not a joke, and we have to acknowledge the real effects it has on real people. College is stressful. That’s kind of a given. But we can take some of the pressure off of ourselves if we actually talk about what’s going on. Reach out to the friends who seem like they’re struggling. Reach out to the friends who seem like they have their life together. Normalize talking about mental disorders and make sure your friends know that there are resources available for them. And if you’re one of the people who needs to hear this: it gets better.