The Truth About College Students with Mental Illnesses, As Told By College Students with Mental Illnesses


Photo courtesy of Flickr Some families pass down heirlooms, or continue legacies. Lucky for me, I’ve got both. Generalized anxiety disorder has run in my family like the optometry practice my great-grandfather started, or passed down like a diamond necklace from my grandmother. But nowadays, it seems that everybody has been diagnosed with some type of a mental illness, so who am I to hog the attention. OMG this is literally giving me SUCH anxiety right now, as heard on every floor of Bird Library at least twice per minute.

Millennials and younger generations have been called “mentally fragile,” and even “useless” by the older generations. Anxiety and psychological weaknesses have skyrocketed in the past 15-20 years, according to a WSJ article. I feel like it’s partially because we grew up being praised for anything we did. I used to pick the flowers and do cartwheels on the field during my days of kiddie soccer to entertain myself for those two required minutes to give each kid playing time, despite the fact that we didn’t even know what sport we were playing. At the end of the season, I received an MVP trophy. From that moment, I had great plans for myself to become the next Mia Hamm. That was, until I didn’t make the travel soccer team in 3rd grade. Apparently how many flowers you pick was not a major criterion in the selection process. So let the older generations call us mentally fragile and useless, they’re the ones who sheltered us, by growing up without rejection and failure. Have fun trying to figure out how to send your own texts and take your own selfies, grandma.

In my opinion, mental illnesses almost seem to be trendy. That girl who’s nice one second then a total bitch to you the next; you say she’s bipolar, but maybe she’s just indecisive about being your friend. Your freshman year roommate who hardly left the room the first few weeks of school wasn’t necessarily clinically depressed, but simply homesick. What I’m trying to say is at this point we’re honestly just making shit up. LG Electronics conducted a study where 9 out of 10 Americans felt “anxious” when their phone battery dropped below 20 percent, calling it “Low Battery Anxiety.” So if my phone is dying and I’m experiencing “LBA,” can I leave class? No, because feeling annoyed that you’re stuck with an inconvenience, such as a dead phone, is not categorized as “having anxiety.” It’s called life. So please don’t capitalize on my mental disorder to market your product, it’s not my fault nobody’s bought an LG cell phone since 2005.

“I tell someone I have ADHD and I get one of two responses, or sometimes both; ‘Yeah, you and everyone else,’ and ‘Can I buy Adderall from you?’” says one student on having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I think the allure of having a mental illness stems from the drugs that are associated with them. I need a Xanax is practically synonymous with feeling anxious. But this person who “needs a Xanax” doesn’t necessarily have anxiety, they’re simply just expressing their current mood. Do they actually follow through and take the Xanax? I don’t think I’m authorized to say, being that my entire knowledge of the war on drugs is restricted to Narcos.

“The most frustrating part of having a mental illness in college is the ambiguity and presumptions about it,” explains a student with clinical depression, “‘It’s all in your head,’ they’ll tell me,” and realistically, “they” are not wrong. It is in your head, but that’s the underlying issue here, because nobody knows what’s going on in there except for you. That being said, if I read one more article lamenting the daily issues faced by someone “battling” a mental disorder in today’s times, I’m going to scream. I’m not saying going through college with a mental disorder isn’t a struggle, but in today’s world, everybody’s got something going on that sets them back, and again, that’s just life. Whether it’s an irrationally overbearing mother whose phone calls force you to answer at all hours of the day in various states of mind, or financially putting yourself through college.

Dealing with mental illnesses in college is not as hard as the media makes it out to be. There’s no specific moment that you’ll go running up the steps of Carnegie Library with your fist in the air like Rocky, declaring you “beat” the mental illness. It shouldn’t feel like a burden, restraint, or definition of an identity as it is portrayed; it’s merely a personal obstacle to overcome, and an aspect life you’re learning to deal with one day at a time. To seek help on campus, there are student organizations, such as Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group to educate, support, and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. But you seldom need to look any further than that safety net comprised of your own friends, which is really the most important part of getting through college, whether you have a mental illness or not.

I don’t need activists fighting for a societal reform, authoritative figures being biased on my work, professors and peers taking pity on me, or classmates envying me for my extended time. It’s not a matter of educating society for them to gain an understanding of my own personal obstacles, it’s a matter of knowing that I have these obstacles to overcome, and figuring out how to do so on my own terms. Because after all, the only person who knows how your mind works is you.