How I Found Help When My University Lacked Mental Health Services

There are lots reasons to be anxious in college, including the excess tests, the pressures of achieving the right grades, varying teaching styles, big classes and being away from a comfortable environment. This doesn’t even include the financial strains during school and the debt when it’s over. The list goes on and on.

Unfortunately I’ve suffered not only with anxiety in college, but with a different demon — obsessive-compulsive disorder. When I went to study abroad two years ago to complete my degree, it almost finished me.

When I went to school at the University of San Francisco, one of my first things I did was visit one of the counselors to see if my mental health services were covered. The answer was yes! It was brilliant. Not only did I feel in charge of my health for the first time, I could afford it.

After a year I transferred to a school abroad in Dublin, Ireland where there were no counselors and no real resources. The school was small and it was hard to find someone I could really trust with my needs. I became stressed out and irritable as my final year began. It’s hard to talk about mental illness to someone who isn’t trained or doesn’t specialize in it. Feeling isolated and misunderstood, I just shut down. During my second to last semester I had a teacher that made my OCD spike so high, I fell into a major depression. Getting out of bed was a chore. I tried to be happy, but my head was making me feel anxious and my body wouldn’t function properly. I was seeing a counselor at the time, but I needed more support than what I could find. I wanted to have a Taylor Swift attitude of “Shake it Off,” but my life had slowly become like Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” music video.  

I was one semester away from finishing my time abroad but was so depressed I didn’t want to go back. I felt disconnected from my body. I was far removed from everything and everyone. I was afraid of what I saw in the mirror. I was between apartments during this time and my friend, Rion (who I met at a job in Dublin the previous year), said I could stay with her when I got back.

I didn’t know Rion very well, but she was the kind of person I knew would make me feel at ease. When I walked into her beautiful haven of an apartment, I immediately fell into the depths of the sleep. But this time I was resting because of sheer exhaustion, not from my depressed state. Rion arrived home later that evening, gave me a long hug and said how much she missed me. She has a way of making me feel like I am the most prized human on the planet. I stayed with her for two blissful weeks. The depth of her patience and love made me feel like I was safe and could talk about the burdens in my life. I didn’t want to weep anymore. I knew when I climbed into bed next to her I would sleep soundly. Little did I know we were both being support systems for each other. The circumstances of our own anxieties and worries brought us closer together. I knew the special gift Rion had brought me, which was not only her friendship, but also the gift of consistency I needed to calm the storm that had festered in my mind.

While I couldn’t find the support I needed at the university, reaching out in a different way helped me to find it in myself to face this disorder. There are still times of anxiety, but I know I can talk to a friend and develop a healing pattern for myself.

But it shouldn’t need to get that severe before you take action and seek help. What I really needed was more support in the beginning and mental health resources that are lacking on many campuses. My advice for students going to school who have limited or no counseling centers, or for the students who are going abroad where there are none, is to check to see what resources are available. It may mean stepping outside of the university setting and seeking alternate resources. I also realized my peers who were going through similar experiences were valuable resources, and I was not alone.

The challenges we face are not isolated experiences. Help is available, even when it’s not in the traditional ways we’ve come to expect. In an ideal world, mental health resources would always be available, and people would understand mental illnesses are just as real as physical ones. But we’re not in that ideal world yet. 

So if you find yourself in an overwhelming situation and it seems like all hope is lost, remember no education is worth your life. I’ve learned and continue to learn that seeking help is a strength, not a weakness. Reach out to someone you trust. Take a break. Regroup and then regain the life you deserve.

The Mighty is asking for mental health related back-to-school pieces. Parents: do you have advice or a story about navigating the school system with a son or daughter with a mental illness? Students: Do you have a back-to-school story or tips for maintaining your mental health while in school? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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