What students coping with mental illness want you to know

We spoke to women battling depression, anxiety, PTSD and ADHD

Mental illness is a struggle that people need to come to grasp.

Even though our illnesses are sometimes difficult to understand, that does not mean people should blindly speak about them. When someone says they deal with [insert mental illness here], don’t discount it as an emotion. It’s so much more than that.

Every person has different story with their mental illness. However, I truly believe if we combine stories and advice then it’ll help the general population understand what is truly going on in our minds.

Zaynab Salehpour, 22, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD, General Anxiety Disorder, and ADHD

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“For people without mental illnesses, I want them to know that even if the stress of a situation is trivial or unreal to them, it can be very real, daunting and terrifying for those who suffer from mental illness. As much as one may try to empathize and try to understand, the fact of the matter is that you can never truly understand what someone with mental illness is going through.

“Instead, offer patience. Be there for someone in whatever capacity or give them space if that’s what they need, but do not give up on them. The worst feeling, is feeling forgotten as a result of a breakdown or an episode. I have major depressive disorder, PTSD, general anxiety disorder, and ADHD. There were days I was too anxious that breathing required constant effort. There were days where depression confined me to my bed, where I was overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness. It is hard, but the best thing you can do is show you care. During a bad day, it made me beyond happy if someone sincerely asked how I was. You would be surprised how much the little actions matter.”

“For those who suffer from mental illness, it gets better.

“I know that everyone seems to tell you that, and I used to scoff whenever I heard it. But when you’re suffering, it’s like being in a locked room with blocked windows; you don’t realize how beautiful the world is outside of that room because those dark walls are all you’ve ever known. But over time, sunlight does trickle in. There was a time that I was so suicidal, I couldn’t even think ahead to the next day. Forget about long-term planning.

“But as I write this, I’m sitting next to my wonderful boyfriend of almost four years, celebrating two years without self-harm. I still have good days and bad days. I have days where I feel “normal” and days where I spiral. However, building a support system of friends, family and professionals whom I trust has given me a safety net that catches me whenever I feel like I’m falling. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, don’t be afraid to get medicated if needed. You are not a failure without it, but realize that in the uphill battle of life, your mountain is more steep and treacherous. That just means you will emerge stronger than you were before.”

Tatiana Briscoe, 21, University of Houston

Anxiety

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“If you have a friend/family member that has a mental illness is that the best thing you can do is to educate yourself about their condition so you’ll better understand what they are experiencing so you can better support/help them.” Mental illness is all about support.”

It is truly difficult to speak up about something that is so often stigmatized; but when we do, we do not expect you to truly understand how we feel, but why we feel that way. It makes all the difference.

Mandi Stiles, 21, University of Houston

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“Personally, what most helps me is “it’s all temporary”. When I’m too far in my own head or I haven’t left my room in a few days, I tell myself there will be a time when I’ll be able to move around again. I’ll be able to sleep peacefully. The panic attack can’t last forever. I know my depression will probably last my whole life, but there are cycles when I’m able to function normally. Right now for example. And I love this time, but I know it probably won’t last forever.

“The important thing is appreciating the moments when I’m okay. I know advice is individual, and you’ll probably find your own mantra. But, for me, thinking “It won’t last forever” when my mental illness is acting up is cleansing. Like when I have a stuffy nose. God, I can’t remember a time I didn’t have a stuffy nose. Was my nose ever normal? Soon it won’t be stuffy, and I might not even notice it at first. I’ll forget what stuffy noses feel like. It might happen again, but for now it’s good. I can breathe.

“For those not afflicted by a mental illness, it’s important to validate those around you. There are millions of things that can go wrong with your body, and it’s entirely likely that, yes, this is a real problem that someone else is going through. If you can’t relate or understand it, that’s okay! It means you’re not going through that type of struggle, and that’s good for you. However, just because we don’t understand something doesn’t make it any less real. And if you catch yourself wanting to say “oh everybody does that” then maybe it’s time for a little self reflection.

“Does everybody do that, or do you? A friend of mine has a mom that continually tells her that depression isn’t a real thing. Everyone feels sad or empty for months at a time. What’s more likely the case is that her mom has depression and was never diagnosed, therefore it’s become normalized. Validate those around you, so they don’t have children that grow up thinking they’re weak when in actuality they’re so strong for trying to handle a mental illness. Remember, Iron Man had a panic attack and thought he had been poisoned.”

Jazzlyn Levigne, 19, University of Houston

Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder

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“Personally, I deal with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder, and it shouldn’t be taboo to mention that. It’s very much a part of me. It influences how my day goes, and how I perceive things around me. For example, if I need to run errands, my depression influences me to stay in bed and question whether or not it’s worth it, while my anxiety constantly nags at me to get up or else something terrible will happen.

Despite how terrible I feel on certain days, I refuse to let it determine my future. I have had countless people who did not understand me, leaving me with a small circle of friends. But who cares? It is much better to have small amount of people understand you, than a large group of people triggering you. There is nothing wrong with needing support.

Our mental illnesses do not label as as a lunatics, nor does it label us as weak. And no we cannot simply “get over it”. If you wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to get over it, then why us?”

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