Humans routinely take themselves to the edge. We indulge in drink, drugs, extreme sports, frequently in copious quantities, but more often than not it’s work that stresses us out. Students are no exception. Anyone who visits the library observes the constant ebb and flow of stressed students. In the winter and summer months the library overflows with people at their wits end or high on caffeine; going through states of quiet sobbing and manic laughter at the stupidity of it all.
We’ve all been there. If you haven’t I congratulate you on your ability to work effectively and control your neuroses. You are a robot. Yet that spaced out feeling you can only get when itís nearing three in the morning and youíve eaten nothing other than M&Ms since dinner, is one most of us can relate to. While many of us promise ourselves that we will never self-inflict such torture again, it is very hard to actually break out of such a cycle when caught in the midst of deadline season.
The passing thought of why I was doing this to myself was brief. Maybe it’s different for you. Why do you act like you do? Are you anxious about your grades? Or your intellect compared to your friends? Are you overworked and trying to juggle too many things at once? Or has the hub just screwed up and put all your deadlines on the same day? It’s different for everyone but the result is the same; more and more students finally say enough is enough. Either they take a break and try to relax; many people I know do this through drink or drugs, few, if any, go to counselling. More and more people are being affected by mental health issues at university, often fuelled by the pressure to succeed academically while feeling isolated and alone.
I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed shortly before my 21st birthday. To be honest it was a relief. Now I had a name to describe these unfamiliar feelings of lethargy and hopelessness. However I soon realised that the word depression had a certain weight associated with it. The brief feelings of relief faded, overcome by worry and confusion. Friends and family suddenly had worried looks on their faces. I felt the same, was there something on my face?
The word depression is weighed down by stigma like many other mental illnesses; bulimia, schizophrenia, sexual addiction. These words fill some people with fear of the unknown fuelled by their own ignorance. I can admit that I knew very little, if anything, about depression before I experienced it first hand. I knew it made people feel sad, and in extreme cases take their own life, but I knew little else. Particularly that those who experience mental health issues are often misunderstood. They don’t want to be tiptoed around or seen as weak and unable to cope with the trials of life; they just want a bit of support, a break and the feeling of being loved. Don’t we all want that?
I was open about my experience and a peculiar thing happens when you are; people open up. Suddenly all your friends and family knock on your door and confess their mental health issues. You think about opening a clinic. They tell their own stories of mental distress and manic behaviour, and how they suffered in silence. Something they have kept locked up for fear of looking weak is finally OK to be said, out in the open. This is a state of openness that we need to achieve in all areas of society, not just in our living rooms, if we can hope to extinguish the stigma around mental health and the people who suffer from it.