What I Wish My Teachers Understood About My Mental Illness
I am a person living with mental illness. Odds are, I’m not the only person in your life who faces this — whether you know it or not. Your knowledge about mental illness may be limited to what the media says, or what society says. With the alarming amount of college students with mental illness these days, I would hope you’ve educated yourself on this topic.
I am a person living with mental illness. I’m also a good student. Yes, I may have missed class, not participated in a discussion or turned something in late, but if that’s all you see then you’re not seeing the whole picture. I’m not asking for excuses or looking for a way to get out of assignments or rules. I would love to be able to adhere to everything without a problem. But I can’t. I have a disability, and even the department that provides accommodations for disabilities doesn’t help much. Aside from the scars on my body and physical symptoms of panic attacks, my illnesses are invisible.
When I don’t come to class, you may see a student who is lazy or didn’t feel like coming. But what you don’t see is the restless night I had tossing and turning with my insomnia. You don’t see the black mass encompassing my entire being some days. You don’t see the fight in my mind between staying alive or giving up. I’m not just lazy. It’s not because I didn’t finish the homework. I wasn’t in class because I couldn’t get out of bed today. I could not face the light of day because my depression had chained me to the darkness of my room.
I had a teacher tell me once it wouldn’t be fair to the people who always made it to class if my absences didn’t affect my grade. At the time, I understood. But looking back now, I realize that makes no sense. Accommodations exist for people with disabilities for a reason. By “understanding” but still penalizing me for something caused by my mental illness, you are keeping me at a disadvantage. It’s not fair to expect I be on par with other students who don’t have the added obstacle of an illness. I promise I’m giving it my all. I’m balancing my recovery and my education at the same time, and I shouldn’t feel like I have to choose. I shouldn’t feel like I can’t do both.
I’m not asking you to never expect me in class or constantly give me extensions. I’m not saying to just let it slide. I’m asking you to be empathetic, understand that I’m a student facing an illness and help me succeed. I’m asking you to not give me a low grade solely because my mental illness prevented me from having a perfect attendance. I’m asking that you look at me as a whole person. I’m asking that you care, and if you can, that you advocate for students like me. I’m a person living with mental illness, and there are so many of us who need your understanding.