Hi! I am one of the over 350 million individuals worldwide who lives with depression. I have dealt with these feelings for a long time, but I found recently that at a large university that can feel so competitive at times, it is easy for these feelings to resurface. I also deal with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and these two combined can be incredibly difficult to keep up with school and extracurriculars. The feelings of constant worry and that I have to prove myself or else I could never be successful are overwhelming. Additionally, depression makes me lethargic, withdrawn from my social sphere, and defeated. This combination has taken a drastic toll on my physical, emotional, and academic well-being.
Earlier this semester my issues became severe to the point where I ended up in the UNC Emergency Room. As someone who has always felt uneasy in hospital settings, this experience proved to be unsettling in and of itself. At a point where I had hit rock bottom, I had no idea what was going on or when I would be able to leave. I understand that a hospital stay is not meant to be luxurious – yet there is so much more we need to do for mental health care, not just at UNC Hospitals, but as a society.
I am incredibly grateful for the number of students on this campus who do so much work for mental health awareness. Organizations such as Rethink, who conduct monthly trainings, Active Minds, and the Mental Health Ambassadors program are examples of student organizations who conduct important advocacy work and who try to battle the stigmas surrounding mental health. It is necessary to realize that some students may come from a background where a lot of stigma came from their families, or they do not have the financial resources to seek care. From what I have observed, these groups are trying to help everyone in need.
It can also be difficult to keep up with the rest of one’s responsibilities while one deals with a mental illness. After I was released from the hospital, I realized that taking 17 credit hours, working part time, and the rest of my extracurriculars was too much for me to handle. My grades were suffering, and I had a hard time keeping up with the rest of my obligations. I decided to apply for a medical appeal and withdraw from one of my courses after the regular drop deadline for the semester. During this process, I had to write a statement explaining to the academic committee how I could prevent my situation from happening in the future. When I spoke to a psychiatrist at CAPS, she said that a good number of psychological appeals get denied because the applicant is unable to elaborate on this. This was frustrating to me because there are many days where I am not in control of my mental illness. Even after medications and counseling appointments, I cannot say for certain whether or not I will be able to avoid another severe crisis. While I wait for the final decision on my application, I will continue to spend the upcoming weeks having to attend my class and do all the assignments for a course I am no longer in due to my mental health. From the conversations I have had, it feels like UNC itself could care less about students who are seriously struggling.
I have also heard the stories of other students who have been upset and discouraged after seeking help through the school system. The issues I hear about include having students being turned away for help completely, or they are referred to off-campus providers when they do not have transportation or the financial ability. While I am very fortunate in that I can access off-campus treatment and get the help I need, not everyone has this privilege. As a result, people are not able to get the regular help they need on-campus. Even after an initial walk-in at CAPS, it can be a while until somebody is able to schedule a follow-up appointment. While there is only so much funding available and so many people that are able to work at a given time, but a lack of access can be incredibly detrimental to those who need help. When somebody hears these negative experiences from somebody else who tried to get help, it can feel like there is nothing else they can do. The system needs to be accessible and supportive for those who are suffering.
If there’s anything I’ve learned this semester, it’s that a lot of times you get worse before you get better. I’m still on a long battle uphill, and sometimes I feel frustrated because it feels like I’ve exhausted my resources. Asking for help is never easy, and it’s hard when you are not believed and turned away. Despite all of this, I would highly encourage anybody who is reading this and who may be struggling to do so. I would never want anybody else to close themselves off for so long and to give up on treatment the way I did in the past.
For those who are in immediate distress, there is a 24-hour CAPS hotline at 919-966-2281 in addition to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.