Believe it or not, having mental illnesses and going to college isn’t the easiest thing to do. Being in denial about just how bad your mental health is and starting college is even more difficult. I went into college thinking nothing bad could possibly happen as long as I went to class and did my homework. I thought, like most people probably think, that college would be like it was in movies; you’d get a really cool roommate and love your classes and live your best life. But what happens when college doesn’t happen like that?
To start out, most people don’t graduate in exactly four years. Graduating in four years is actually pretty rare yet is still a marvelous feat to achieve. In reality, as many as 59% of people seeking their bachelor’s degree take up to 6 years to graduate. Since it’s so rare to actually graduate in 4 years, a term called the “Four Year Myth” has become pretty well known and is true to its meaning. In a study of 580 public four-year universities, only 50% graduated on time. Even knowing how common it is to graduate late, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with as an individual.
I personally started college in 2015 right after I graduated high school. I made out a plan for my courses in order to graduate on time, which included taking summer courses.
Yet here I am starting my fourth year with no idea of my graduation date. My first year of college wasn’t like the movies. Instead, it was incredibly hard. I was uprooted from my routine back home and was forced to live on my own where I inevitably collapsed in on myself like a dying star. The mental health issues I was already battling went into overdrive and I finished my first semester with a 0.067 GPA and a letter of academic probation in my mailbox.
However, I wasn’t the only one facing a challenge like this. In the 2014-2015 school year, 1,170 students dropped out of their own colleges because of mental health issues. That’s a staggering number to look at yet it gets worse when you realize that it’s a 210% increase since the 2009-2010 school year. In the same study, 87,914 students asked to start counseling in the 2015-2016 school year. Mental health is an alarming issue in college students all across the nation as well as people outside of college.
For me, I faced the two most common mental health issues in college students: anxiety and depression. I’m not talking about feeling sad and being nervous in class, I’m talking weeks without showers because I lacked motivation and skipping a day of class then never going back because I felt too anxious to face my professor as to why I was missing. I’m talking days on days where I only ate microwavable macaroni cups in my dorm room because I was too anxious to face people and staying up for 72 hours straight because I couldn’t stop thinking about anything and everything. That kind of anxiety and depression. What’s worse is that students all over the country endure the same emotional pain and one of these students could be in your class.
To get more specific, anxiety and depression affects 57% of women and 40% of men. On top of that, 40% of these people do not seek help. The reason many don’t look for help is for a variety of reasons.
It’s possible they’re in denial of how bad it is or maybe they can’t afford to get help. It’s possible that many could have misconceptions of what it means to go to therapy, like that it makes you weak or that therapists don’t actually do anything. Then there’s the more macabre possibility: maybe they just wanted to give up. Whatever the case may be, mental health issues are only getting worse in college students.
For me, I was continuously told to give up my dream of a college education my entire second semester. What’s worse is that I was told this by the therapists on campus. I was told there was no hope for me at that point and that I needed to give up in order to reevaluate my life. It was just assumed that I didn’t like college or at least this specific college. It was assumed that the only thing causing my distress what college itself, which couldn’t be further from the truth. By the summer of 2016, a week before I was to move into my on-campus apartment, I was told that I was kicked out of school because of my grades. However, I had spent the entire summer appealing failed classes with the help of an off-campus counselor and one appeal went through, allowing me to go back to college. However, since I live so far away and had nowhere to live near campus since I lost my apartment, I had to take a year off.
Long story short, I fought long and hard with the war raging in my head. I traveled 5 hours every week to attend therapy in order to make sure I was ready for the next time I attended classes. Even though I lost all of my loans and financial aid, I started back at the same university for the 2017-2018 school year and made the President’s list. I was put in the local newspaper back home and earned my loans back. I worked hard and went from a freshman to a junior in 365 days. I joined clubs, got a part-time job, made friends and seemed like a normal kid. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have off days. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still feel the effects of mental health issues in my academics and my daily life.
All in all, if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that it’s possible to make a comeback. I’ve learned that mental health issues are more common in college students than anyone would like to admit. I’ve learned how to overcome and how to share my story for those in a similar position. While it wasn’t the experience I planned for or wanted, I wouldn’t change it for anything.