Given some recent events in my life, the topic of mental health has been unavoidable. My entire life I have suffered from mental illness and have learned to “deal with” it as many teachers and peers would put it. The worst part is, I’m not alone. Mental Illness in students is a growing phenomenon that is going untreated. This article from NPR perfectly describes it as “a silent epidemic.”
We all know the stigma behind mental illness. Because you can’t physically see it, and because it doesn’t always require medical attention, it is often shrugged off and not taken seriously. Oh how I know this too well. I can vividly remember days where I lied to my employer stating I had the flu or a stomach virus and couldn’t come in to work that day because I knew saying I was depressed or I was having an panic attack wouldn’t work the same. I knew if I went up to my high school teacher and asked for an extension on an assignment, telling her I was physically ill would get a much different response than telling her my anxiety was through the roof. Unfortunately, this stigma has followed me to college as my mental illness only got worse.
The stigma behind mental illness is the very reason why students fall behind, do poorly in school, and drop out. Parents and teachers are not trained or even willing to notice the signs of mental illness and accommodate for students in the same way they would if a student had the flu, or was out because the broke their leg.
In the last 2 weeks I have had several days I didn’t want to get out of bed, 3 panic attacks (that I can remember), strep throat, and a phone call from my mother telling me my grandmother’s cancer had put her back in the hospital. This doesn’t even begin to cover the multitude of papers, exams and assignments I had to worry about that I have quite frankly been trained to see as more important. So here’s the thing: I have real life events that lead to my panic attacks, because of my anxiety my weak immune system allows for me to contract strep throat (again) that takes the rest of any energy I had left, which affects my performance in school. This then causes be to fall behind which brings more anxiety and therefore accelerating this cycle. Now look around, hundreds of students around you experience this all the time and yet they don’t get the help they need.
I’m not writing this for anyone to feel sorry for me. Because trust me I have heard “suck it up” “get over it” and “just be happy” way too many times to care what other people think. I’m writing this to open the eyes of teachers, parents, and students. Our school system could make such a difference if more resources and time would go into mental health. We could unlock so much potential, we could decrease drop out rates (and decrease the amount of times I have considered dropping out), and most importantly we could decrease suicide rates in college aged students.
I know this post isn’t exactly an education policy post, but this is real life and this is happening all around us. College students don’t walk around like robots with no emotion who only have time for assignments. We are humans living our lives outside the classroom and we experience real world problems that are so much more important than turning something in on time. It’s time we all acknowledge that.