NAMI McHenry County Blog – August 2019

College and Mental Health 

It was a cold Sunday night in October, or rather morning at this point. The jarring, white clock on my phone displaying ‘2:30 a.m.’ was the only thing my newly awakened eyes could yet see. My horribly early alarm had just saved me from yet another nightmare filled with yelling, arguing, and sadness. But my alarm woke me into a different kind of predicament, and there was no time for me to lull away the terrible dream. I had class in exactly 7 hours, which meant that my empty Word document titled “Lab Report 3” needed to be filled to the brim with graphs and data before my professor would begin grading away. All I wanted to do at this point was put my worried head back to rest and calm myself down before things got worse, but there was a mountain of procrastinated work ahead of me. With my laptop in front of me and a newfound anxiousness, I flipped my bright lamp on and began typing away in my dormant apartment complex, holding back the tears I could feel coming on.

Unfortunately for my state of mind, this horrible process wasn’t a one off situation. Lab reports and essays were due weekly, and there was always a constant pressure in my head that I wasn’t doing good enough, that my professors and peers were disappointed in my efforts yet again. Coupled with the obscure feeling of dissociation and a looming melancholy, my college ‘adventures’ during the first two years weren’t the greatest.

This isn’t to say that my struggles aren’t atypical and unheard of. On the contrary, college aged groups have seen steady increases in the rate of mental health disorders over the past few decades, from about 10% of students seeking treatment in the 1980’s to almost 33% of students now seeking treatment today. While this rise can certainly be attributed to more accepting attitudes towards seeking treatment, impartial data like major depressive disorder diagnoses and suicide rates in college students have both risen nearly 50% from just 2006 to 2016, so we’re not quite sure yet what’s causing these increases.

“Considering that students are a key population for determining the economic success of a country, colleges must take a greater urgency in addressing this issue.” This comes from a 2018 Colombia University journal survey on university counseling centers led by Randy P. Auerbach, PhD. Because of this huge increase, Auerbach now states that university counseling centers are being pushed to their limits, with 15-20% of college students utilizing them. While other resources, such as online therapy, are now more accessible, this doesn’t deter the fact that school counseling centers are often the first resource students go to. I wasn’t any different in this regard. After working up the strength and reaching out to find services, I ended up taking individualized and group therapy at my counseling center for most of my freshman year. I eventually met a full-time therapist to see, as well as a psychiatrist, both of which have been instrumental in gradually getting me to a safer, better mental space.

NAMI at McHenry County itself offers free support groups every week for adults 18 and up, along with our more focused WRAP program aimed at improving your well-being. Information on these and our other programs can be found under our website’s overview of services. If you aren’t in the area over the school year, you can also check with the local NAMI chapter by your university for their programs or see if your school has one of the student-led NAMI on Campus clubs.

While I still endure many of the emotions I had as a freshman, I’ve learned how to cope with them on a day to day basis. One thing that’s certainly made a huge impact since then is switching to a less intensive major during my sophomore year. I’m currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, a major that’s been significantly less stressful and more rewarding to me than pre-medicine biology. Changing majors actually granted me more space for elective classes too, and I’m “treating myself” by taking two language classes of my choice for this upcoming junior year, ASL and Japanese. For the first time in a long while I’m genuinely looking forward for what’s to come out of this next year.


About the blog author – Trey Vanderstappen

Trey is an upcoming junior studying psychology at DePaul University. He plan’s on pursuing a master’s degree and becoming a school psychologist in the near future. He spent the long summer studying up on his language classes, taking hikes at the local forest preserves, and volunteering at NAMI McHenry County!

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