Dealing with mental health as a student can sometimes feel like that hardest thing there is. We are given excused absences for sports and understanding for family emergencies but there is very little awareness and sympathy around students who are navigating academia with depression and anxiety disorders. The number of students dealing with serious mental health problems has increased substantially since the early and mid ‘90s. I have seen the rises myself on DelVal’s campus. In looking at my graduating class alone, there are a significant number of students who find themselves dealing with illnesses they did not have prior to college.
According to the APA 2010 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors, “respondents reported that 44 percent of their clients had severe psychological problems, a sharp increase from 16 percent in 2000. The most common of these disorders are depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and self-injury. In a 2010 survey of students by the American College Health Association, 45.6 percent of students surveyed reported feeling that things were hopeless and 30.7 percent reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function during the past 12 months.”
For me personally, the health center at DelVal has been a good resource for counselling as well as networking and finding connections to other resources like psychiatrists and support groups in town. We have the privilege of having a learning support team that helps student with documented disabilities establish testing and class schedules that accommodate them. However, this does not address the fundamental issue. Is college life causing mental illness? What do you do when there is no documented proof of your anxiety? What happens when the period of understanding is over and you’re still not okay? In December 2014, law students from Columbia, Harvard, and Georgetown University made a request that their respective administrators delay their exam schedule due to the release of the decision to not indict in the case of Eric Garner and Mike Brown. Many argued that students should be able to perform in the face of injustice. Ellie Mystal states, “requesting an extension or postponement of exams is the entirely wrong message. Nobody said it was going to be easy or even fair, but showing up to take your test in the face of this adversity happens to be what is required. It’s a learning experience: how do I excel when the racism is so thick and I can’t breathe? It’s a skill that you might as well learn in school because it will be required of you in life.”
One can also say that this attitude of dismissing mental illness is what makes such a healthy breeding ground for its development in the first place. For people with anxiety disorders this is exactly what they don’t need to hear, they are already hyperaware. As we are continuing to have increases in the number of people enduring these issues, it is important to look at the way we talk about these issues and if those ways are actually helping. We know life has to go on. We know there are still world responsibilities and adulting is expected despite whatever we are feeling. But the how, the methodology behind getting out of bed today with a concrete reason for waking up, that requires a different conversation, with a hell of a lot more understanding than we have for each other today.