Mental health affects every one of us and it’s okay to talk about it.
The American Freshmen Survey conducted at the University of California in Los Angeles in 2014 found that only 50.7 per cent of students rated their emotional health as being above average. This is the lowest level the annual survey has ever reported in its 49 years.
Additionally, a 2011 study published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy stated that suicide was the second leading cause of death among college-aged students at 6.17 per 100,000, compared to homicide rates of 0.53. Why are so many young adults dealing so poorly with so many mental health related issues?
University is supposed to be a time of discovery and newfound freedom. It’s supposed to be the best years of our lives, a time where lifelong friendships are formed and where life-changing experiences are to be had.
What we don’t talk about is that university is scary, especially for newcomers. It is stressful, it is lonely and it is difficult.
Fledgling adults are subjected to stressful deadlines, burdensome responsibilities and social pressure, all while trying to figure out who they are for the first time and losing the safety net of adolescence.
There is a discrepancy between our expectations and our reality. From the movies, the popular magazines and the nostalgic memories of our parents, university appears to be a magical place where parties rage every weekend, where there’s never a dull moment with all the clubs and activities going on and where people just seem to naturally form tight bonds with each other. Reality can be much bleaker.
We don’t talk about silent and invisible struggles. We don’t talk about depression or bipolar disorder. We don’t talk about self-esteem issues or abuse. We don’t talk about pregnancy scares or trauma.
We need to start making it okay to admit when we’re not okay.
The phrase “you’re not alone” is well-meaning, but not very helpful. Being a part of a statistic is not the same as feeling supported. Those of us who don’t struggle with mental illness often find ourselves at a loss when trying to help someone who does and this can leave both parties frustrated and distanced from each other, worsening the problem.
It’s ironic that the solitude of mental illness never happens in isolation. We inevitably end up affecting everyone around us, through no fault of our own, but when we don’t know how to talk about it, we end up trying to place blame for a problem that isn’t the fault of anyone in particular. Still, we are not alone and it is good to remind ourselves of that.
There are many services available to anyone struggling with mental illness. The University of Saskatchewan offers counselling, student health, assistance for students with disabilities and support for female and LGBTQ students, as well as a variety of support groups for anyone struggling.
The U of S strives to create safe places for students to voice their concerns or just to be heard. As research sheds more light on the nature of mental health, more of us are learning how to be more accepting and sensitive to the needs of others.
Unfortunately, none of these services are of any use if you don’t take the first step.
We’ve somehow begun to associate taking care of ourselves with selfishness. This is harmful. The silently suffering archetype of the past is no longer noble, if it ever was. There’s nothing shameful about seeking help.
We need to start talking.
Image: Jeremy Britz/Graphics Editor