Managing mental health as a college student
Updated: May 11, 2022
Mental health is a daunting topic yet something I am passionate about. In the spring semester, CMU put up big posters with prompts such as “CMU Stress Culture Doesn’t Exist. Thoughts?” where students could put their thoughts. Additionally, former president Subra Suresh had talked about expanding Counseling and Psychological Services, CaPS, so that it is more accessible.
The article I wrote in response to CMU’s initiatives to spark conversation and improve mental health services can be found here.
Now, it’s already November. Since then, many more conversations of mental health have been held. Oct. 10 was World Mental Health Day, in which many people bravely shared their stories and testimonies of struggling with mental health. Approximately 18.5% of the U.S. adult population struggles with a mental illness of some sort, yet this topic is still touchy and, in a sense, taboo. Worldwide, there is a stigma surrounding the topic, and although it is not rare, it can make many feel isolated or alone.
As someone who is a part of that percentage, I can say that there is still great work to be done. I am fortunate enough to have support from family, friends, and a caring community here at CMU. Even though Tepper—CMU as a whole—has a stress culture that can make anyone feel easily overwhelmed, I have learned to handle these pressures on top of my illness.
I was diagnosed with OCD and depression prior to entering college, so I had a vague sense of how to cope. However, as it would be for anyone, moving 700+ miles away from the place I called home for ten years, it was hard for me to adjust. No longer was I the big fish in the small pond; I was now in a huge pond with fish that all looked bigger than I was. All these stimuli, as would with anyone else, had pushed me over the edge.
One great regret that I had pertaining to taking care of myself was thinking that I wasn’t “bad enough” to reach out for help. I had thought that I was struggling, but I thought I was not struggling “enough” to warrant seeing a therapist. Even though there are people who tell us that seeking help is a sign of strength, it is hard to push out the voices telling us that seeking help is a sign of weakness and incompetence. However, I want to say this: one of my biggest freshman regrets was not reaching out. Even if one does not struggle with a mental illness, many can benefit from seeing a therapist. CaPS gives access to short-term therapists on-campus and can help connect patients to longer-term care if necessary. An hour out of your busy week sounds like a lot of commitment, especially when assignments and exams are piling up. However, taking even that one hour out of your week to sort things out will save your sanity and your time in the long run versus just pushing through. Just like one needs rest after suffering from an injury, give yourself some time to regroup.
You can call CaPS [Carnegie Mellon University's Counseling and Psychiatric Services] at 412-268-9622 or find more about them here.
Keeping an open dialogue is also important. Nobody is entitled to information regarding your health without your consent. As cliché as it is, “it’s okay not to be okay.” Whether it be to a therapist or to your best friend or a trusted professor, it’s okay to admit that you are struggling. Again, 18.5% of the U.S. population struggles with a diagnosable mental illness. Even if it appears that you are the only one struggling, you are not. Behind every smiling photo you see from your friends’ Instagrams is an untold story.
Now, I am truly happy, a feat that I had not thought would be possible. That doesn’t mean that my life is stress-free or perfect. There are days in which it is easier for me to manage whereas there are other days in which my illnesses make it physically hard for me to do even the simplest of tasks, never mind mentally demanding assignments. However, I am still learning every day as a student—not just as a student at Tepper but also as a student of life. I continue to work with a therapist to handle both my illness and my schoolwork more effectively. I enjoy study dates with my friends and weekends with my boyfriend. Yes, I slip back sometimes, but I have learned why people say that the friends you make at college are the friends you have for life—the people I have met are truly the most brilliant and kindest people I have had the privilege of knowing, and they never cease to show me love and support.