First Year, Masters in Speech-Language Pathology
Interviewed by Torian Hill
How has your experience with mental illness been over the years?
Honestly, it sucks. It's not easy waking up incredibly anxious or depressed, and knowing that that’s probably how you'll feel all day. It also causes a lot of difficulty with memorizing and focusing for school and it comes off as lazy, even though I'm trying my best. I think the worst part is that, on top of being constantly fatigued, discouraged, terrified and fragile, I constantly have to convince people that I'm sick and that they should take my illness seriously. It's especially frustrating when instructors don't believe me or downplay my depression because I have to academically perform as well as everyone else in spite of having a debilitating disease that should be accommodated just like any other "real" illness would. It can be really discouraging to feel like I'm better because I haven't been as depressed or anxious for awhile, just for it to come back worse than ever and fear that I'll never truly get better. It's terrifying at times.
How do you deal with these kinds of people?
I do my best to advocate for myself and for fellow sufferers who will come after me. I usually try to explain how we process and interpret things to anyone truly willing to listen, hoping they will pass it on and end the ignorance and stigmas surrounding mental illness. I hope the more people who hear the truth and do a little research will understand that it's not a choice and that it's not an easy thing to fix or something to just "get over.” And I hope those people will pass it on.
What do you do to cope with mental illness?
I use aromatherapy, meditation, a support system of friends and family, anti-stress activities like adult colouring books and regular therapy sessions with two different counselors.
Are there stigmas that go along with it, if so what are they?
I think a main stigma is that all of us with mental illness look and act that same which simply isn't true. Not that that's wrong to do, but that's not all of us. Most of us are the "happiest" people you know so you should never assume that you'll be able to recognize who has mental illness and who doesn't. Another one is that your illness can't be that bad if you're functioning. Since I have good hygiene and get good grades, people think my illness can't be that bad and that they shouldn't be concerned about it, but they have no idea how many unhealthy coping strategies I've had to use to get those good grades. Also, people think that mentally ill people are all crazy and should be in straight jackets somewhere which isn't true. Everyone goes through at least one depressive episode in their lifetime. Imagine how it feels when you lose a loved one or experience a really bad breakup—those of us with depression feel that way the majority of the time. Anxiety is similar. So no, we're not crazy, we just feel intense emotions on a consistent basis that are incredibly difficult to control.
How can we as a school raise awareness about depression and mental illness?
I think that having more events like the Nest, where people who are sufferers feel safe to share what's it's like. Also, the school can support research studies aimed at shedding light on mental illness like one I'm launching about the effects of mental illness on academia. And I think if the faculty and staff had more exposure to the research already out there, it could make a huge difference for those of us who are students. Additionally, giving us a voice on more public platforms, like at chapel or Tuesday choices so we can reach people on a larger scale.
How can society help with the fight against mental illness?
I think everyone should just research it. Most people don't care until it affects someone they're close to. However, realistically the statistics are so high that it's incredibly likely that mental illness is already affecting someone you're really close to—you just might not know it. There's plenty of info right there on Google that can help you recognize important signs and also know appropriate things to say if a loved one needs you. I think Andrews could be a catalyst for changing the broader public's view on mental illness. We're already on the map for being diverse. Why not add to that by also being one of the most accommodating to mentally-ill students?