Universities Cannot Continue to Ignore the Needs of Students With Mental Illnesses

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Before I started university, I had a vision of myself as a brilliant academic, navigating the world of higher education as naturally and smoothly a fish in water. I envisioned it to be just like high school but without the petty dramas and politics that had bogged me down. I came from a small town, so plenty of people knew myself and my family, and so my struggles with mental health, depression in particular, had been well-accommodated for to ensure I would be able to achieve all I was capable of. I had been sheltered by this wealth of support and had no reason to believe this would not carry forth into this new realm of academia. I was sorely mistaken.

The city I moved to and the fast-paced nature of university life were huge culture shocks for me. I wasn’t used to the noise, the bustle, and felt like a stereotype of a small-town girl in the big city. I felt embarrassed, my hopes of making a quick adjustment burst in the instant I had arrived. I struggled to adjust to a lonelier life without the friends I had grown up with, and I found the transition from high school student to university student almost impossible to navigate alongside my mental health problems. I had not yet been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD); that would come a year later, and so I found it hard to communicate exactly why I was struggling so much and how the university could help.

After three arduous months of living in residency halls owned by the university, where I was bullied for my introverted, quiet nature, I moved back to my hometown and commuted in for lectures and contact time. Moving out was not something many students did and I had to go through a lot of bureaucracy, citing my mental health as a reason to be let out of my rental contract, to be allowed to go home. On the one hand, I was back amongst the people I had known almost my whole life. and the familiarity was comforting, but I was also incredibly isolated and felt a huge separation between myself and the university life my peers were enjoying so much. This only exacerbated my mental illness and particularly played upon some of my BPD traits, making me feel as if there was nowhere I fit in, that I would never achieve anything of substance, and that I had been in some way abandoned, be it by my rose-tinted optimism of university life or by the institution itself that had failed to offer me any support.

After giving evidence from my doctor that my mental health would not permit me to stay at the residency halls, I expected an email, a letter, something from someone within my school that would offer me the help I desperately wanted but could not access. Instead, I found that, as typical with many large universities, individual departments were not very much in contact with one another, and so I took responsibility for myself and contacted the Disability Services. Even there, I was held back from the resources I needed to access by the ocean of paperwork I had to get through, and even when support was offered, there were waiting lists that became increasingly harder to hold out for as I began to slip into a period of crisis. While I understand university mental health provisions lack sufficient funding and are increasingly under strain from the sheer number of people who need that kind of
support, I felt as if I had been failed; nobody could point me in the direction of emergency services available in my city or any financial advice provisions I could access, as I was severely low on money. As my depression became more overwhelming and I eventually developed serious suicidal ideations, I was forced to take an interruption from studies.

This was not a decision I took lightly. To interrupt my studies meant surrendering the all-important funding I was receiving for studying. It meant telling my parents I simply “couldn’t cut it” at university, that I was not the brilliant student I had pretended to be. It meant losing a group of friends who could not maintain contact with me as my mental health got worse. It put huge strain on my relationship as my partner became my whole social life. It was something I felt forced into, unable to sit and pass my upcoming exams because of absences and an utter lack of concentration and focus when I was present at a lecture. I was not really told of any other options, and it seemed to be all I was left with.

While I needed that eight months, as it turned out, to allow myself for the first time in seven years to just collapse and breakdown, it had devastating consequences on my life. Throughout the eight months I was not studying, I had almost no contact with the university and was offered very little in the way of interim support. In fact, they failed to appropriately deal with the financial side of my interruption that they were responsible for, and I ended up, for a time, completely penniless but unable to work, so I had no income.

Mental health is not taken seriously enough in any institution in society. From education to healthcare to the workplace, mental illness still unfortunately carries a great stigma, and there is a belief that it is something one can just shake off – be positive and strong and it will get better. My experience has taught me the importance of asserting myself and my needs, understanding what it is that I want and striving for it. Students with mental health problems do not receive the appropriate support, and often, accommodations are not made to ensure they can achieve their potential as their peers can. Disabled students are at such a disadvantage within the world of academia, and institutions have a responsibility to ensure every student is afforded the same opportunities to succeed. Now in recovery, I aim to use my experience of the system to advocate for those in crisis now and those who need access to life-saving resources and mental health provisions. Students with mental illnesses are just as capable as their peers. We just need to right kinds of support in place, and we need everyone to get alongside this and fight for us.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd

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Amy E. Bleuel from Project Semicolon

Amy Bleuel, Founder of Project Semicolon, Passes Away at 31

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Amy Bleuel, known in the mental health community as the person behind the popular semicolon tattoo, passed away on Thursday, March 23 at the age of 31, Project Semicolon confirmed to The Mighty on Wednesday.

Update March 30 8:45 a.m. PST: The Mighty has confirmed Amy died by suicide. Please when reporting on this story, refer to Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide.  For whoever needs help right now, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you see a semicolon as more than just punctuation, you probably know Amy. Her movement, called Project Semicolon, is a global nonprofit dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury.

She told The Mighty in 2015, “In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”

The semicolon manifested in both drawings and tattoos and quickly became a sign of hope for those who struggled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

In The Mighty community, people have written about their semicolon tattoos, and again and again we would see semicolon tattoos in the pictures people share with us:

“This is the tattoo I’m proudest of.” — Kris Lindsey

“My husband got this tattoo for me to show his support for my mental illness. I have bipolar 2, generalized and social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.” — Jennifer Rushton

“My sister and I got matching tattoos last year – a combination of a semicolon and a butterfly with our fingerprints as the wings, representing both of our struggles with depression as well as many people we both know who have various mental health problems.” — Rachel Dillon

“I had postpartum anxiety and OCD after my son, and after overcoming it I got this tattoo in honor of the semicolon project! That I chose to continue my sentence instead of end it.” — Ethan Lexie Clouse

“I got the word warrior because I fight with these thoughts every day, and I survived a suicide attempt. The semicolon is in there because it symbolizes that my story isn’t over. I got it right there on my arm so I can see it clearly every day and remind myself to stay strong.” — Ashley Lake

I got the word warrior because I fight with these thoughts every day, and I survived a suicide attempt. The semicolon is in there because it symbolizes that my story isn’t over. I got it right there on my arm so I can see it clearly every day and remind myself to stay strong.” — Ashley Lake

Thank you for the impact you’ve had on the mental health community, Amy. You will be missed.

Related: If Amy Bleuel’s Death Leaves You Feeling More Helpless, Please Remember This

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Correction: This article originally incorrectly reported Amy passed away on Friday, March 24. Project Semicolon let us know the correct date is Thursday, March 23.

Lead image via Project Semicolon’s Facebook page 

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7 Important Lessons My Mental Illness Taught Me

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My mental illness, after six years of struggling with it, has taught me many things. It has taught me strength, given me hope and allowed me to meet so many amazing people. Here are some of the most important things it has taught me and might have taught you too:

1. True friends are hard to come by and can be even harder to keep when you struggle with your mental health.

Sometimes it’s so exhausting and tough living inside your own mind that keeping friends is not the most important thing on your list of things to do. But when you do find them, they become the most precious people in your life, and sometimes the only people who truly understand you.

2. Getting rid of toxic elements in your life is of vital importance.

When you struggle with your mental health, you can become your worst enemy. There’s nothing or no one who can do you more harm than you. So ridding yourself of all toxic elements in your life, of everything that is doing you more harm than good, is one of the best things you can do.

3. Being strong does not mean not struggling.

In our society, we are often made to believe we must always be happy and that struggling makes us weak. That is absolutely not true. It’s how you deal with your struggles that makes or breaks you. Remember, you’ve survived 100 percent of your worst days — who says you can’t live through a couple more?

4. You are never alone.

Though it definitely sometimes feels like it, you are never truly alone. There will always be someone willing to listen, whether that be a family member, a friend, a psychologist or even someone at a call center.

5. Not being OK is 100 percent OK.

You are allowed to feel bad. You are allowed to have bad days. Your feelings are totally and utterly valid. Do not let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

6. It’s OK to ask for help.

You don’t always have to put on a smiling face. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. You don’t have to go through this alone, and the right people will always be there to support you.

7. Putting yourself first might be the best thing you do.

It is completely acceptable to put yourself first for once and to think about yourself. It is not selfish, and you are not a “bad” person for doing so. You’ve been putting others first for so long, so give yourself a break and take care of yourself for once.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via retrorocket

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The Problem With Disconnecting From Your Emotions

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I know from personal experience, disconnecting from reality may seem like the answer when your life gets overwhelming. It seems like your only option. Hell, who wants to go through the emotional roller coaster of depression and anxiety on top of the crappy day you just had? I often was in the habit of just disconnecting from reality. I just imagined it was all happening to someone else and I could not feel a thing.

I. Could. Not. Feel. A. Thing.

I could not feel happiness. I could not feel sadness. I could not feel empathy, or love or anything. Just numb. And let me tell you something right here and now. When you get out of that numbness, there is nothing more terrifying than the though of reentering that phase. At the time it seems like the best solution, right? Why wouldn’t I want an easy get-out-of-emotion free card? The problem with disconnecting is that those emotions just simply become buried, to be brought up at another time. It is always healthier to face your emotions when they are presented to you. We all know what happens when emotions and issues get bottled up. Nothing good ever comes from that. Ever.

Ever since I have decided to try and deal with my emotions rather than just disconnect from reality, I will say I have grown stronger in my walk with this illness. I have learned things from this illness that I would have never learned had I decided to disconnect. I am finally beginning to learn how to deal with emotions better than I ever have been thanks to making the decision that I was going to fight like hell to face any of the emotions that cross my path. It is easy to disconnect or to self-medicate the pain away. It all is only temporary though. Right when you come back, your issues are right in your face just in a bigger way. I know first hand how tough major depression and anxiety can be. That is why I implore you to fight. Don’t stand down and look at the ground. No. You jump up to the challenge and confront the emotions and situation and do your damn best. You never go down without a fight! That is not who we are! We are fighters until the end! Never surrender what is yours in this life. Never disconnect to temporarily retreat from your situation. Never step down to depression and anxiety.

Always try your very best to fight back.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via rmbrown

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The Morning After a Breakdown

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Last night as I was sitting in my recliner watching a movie, all of my feelings welled up inside me. Feelings of sadness and guilt and anger and doubt. And then, like geyser, all of these feelings were released. All at once. And this certainly wasn’t the first time it’s ever happened to me. Chances are you’ve been in this situation before, too. I sat there and sobbed. And I mean ugly sobbed. Snot everywhere, all in my beard. It was gross. But I needed it. I needed to release those feelings. They’ve been bottled up for months now. I did everything I knew to do. I texted friends to find someone to talk to. I opened a book that gives me comfort. I put on music that always makes me feel better. My best friend that lives over 600 miles away called me and talked to me until I felt like I was calm enough to go to sleep. She reassured me that everything was going to be OK, and that I have people who love me and want me to be OK, and that I have a purpose for this world. This world is better with me in it, she said. Sometimes, it takes someone like that to make us realize that life is going to keep going. My story doesn’t end here. It’s still being written. I want to write down what I was feeling last night, and my response to them today.

I’m feeling too much, but I’m going to be OK.

I need help, so I’m going to start going to counseling again.

I wish I hadn’t messed up a relationship, but there are other girls out there.

I wish I had it together, but I know that I will figure things out eventually.

I’m lonely, but I have friends and family who care about me immensely.

I’m feeling too much, but I’m not done. I’m not leaving. I’m here to stay. I am loved. I am enough. I will find happiness again. I will make it through this. And so will you.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via francescoch

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Explaining My Mental Illnesses Through 'Stranger Things'

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A few nights ago, I lay in bed willfully trying to wish myself to sleep, just like I do every night. My brain was buzzing and would not allow me the blissful escape sleep can sometimes bring. That evening, I had just finished binge-watching the series “Stranger Things” on Netflix, and I was processing the images and storyline in my head. It was during this time I realized the TV show could serve as a metaphor for mental illness.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll try and explain how I came to this conclusion.

*Spoiler Alert*

In “Stranger Things,” a hideous monster is stalking the town, appearing rather human-like from afar but up close is in fact far from it. Instead of a face, this creature has only a giant mouth, amusingly resembling a walking venus fly trap (it’s basically just teeth-on-legs). It feeds on flesh, whether that be human or not. Nobody really knows where it came from, but all of a sudden it’s just there, and people start to go missing – including a young boy named Will.

The creature evidently doesn’t come from our world – it resides in a much darker realm. In the show, the children named this world the “Upside Down” or the “Other Side” because it appears to be a parallel universe. Only in this version of the universe it is dark, cold and overridden with decay. This is where Will had disappeared to, where he was hiding from the creature, constantly in fear of being found and eaten.

I see these two worlds as my mind: they exist in the same place, but they are very, very different. At the moment, I am stuck in the Upside Down. I have been here for a while, and I am constantly in hiding. I feel detached from people around me, and my surroundings, although familiar, are not the same. I feel an evil lurking in my mind. It stalks me, and I am terrified one day it will catch up and eat me. I am convinced this is how I will meet my end. There have been times when I have almost given up, lain myself bare, and waited for the demon to find me. Perhaps it is then that my cries have reached through, and people in the normal world have heard me. Or seen me. For I am still here, still alive. I might find a good hiding place for sometime, but the demon always reappears. I am so tired, tired of struggling to stay alive. I feel I will never find a way back to the normal world.

I’ve realized I cannot rely on a person to save me. But I cannot yet rely on myself; it is a balance of the two. I need help, but I know I also need to be able to accept that help. Will (the young boy) would not have been saved if it wasn’t for the people who loved him, but it was also down to himself – he had to bang against the walls and cry out to his mum to get messages through. He almost gave up. But he survived.

I am hoping to explain this scenario to my family, so they have relatable imagery to compare my illnesses to. I hope it won’t frighten them, because the Upside Down is such a terrible and lonely place. But that’s the reality for me.

Although it may seem bizarre to compare mental illnesses with “Stranger Things,” it might just help.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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