It was only during a Sunday run a few weeks ago that I first learned a friend of mine was battling anxiety and depression. Coincidentally enough, that run seemed to open the flood gates as I’ve now witnessed and read about more examples of student depression in the past two weeks than I’d ever seen previously in my 3 1/2 years at Michigan.
The great thing about running long distances with a partner is that, if you have the courage to take out your headphones, the distance and relentless amount of quiet time ahead of you forces both of you to open up and share intimacies that you might not have otherwise. A couple Sundays ago during one particular 16-mile run, my running partner (who also happens to be my freshman year roommate) and I got into a long conversation about her excessive time in her laboratory, her thesis work, and how it is affecting her both socially and mentally. Though I definitely recognized a change in Margaret over the past few semesters, I wanted to wait and see if she’d bring anything up. By around mile 12, Margaret admitted to going through intense periods of misery and sadness. Working in Ann Arbor this summer, she’d call her mom crying daily, not understanding why she was so upset all the time. Though Margaret attributed a lot of this to stress and loneliness, she also understood that there could be a larger issue at hand. When I asked her if she went to CAPS or tried talking to anyone, she admitted she had. “Well…” I gently nudged her, “What did they say?” After a few moments of silence, she explained to me that she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was going back for a follow up visit to talk about medication.
Once Margaret broke the news to me, I witnessed her body tense up, as though she was bracing herself for how I would react. “What?” I asked her. “Why are you so worried? Experiencing depression and anxiety in college is common, Margaret,” I urged. “You’re completely normal, and you’re going to get better.”
As Margaret breathed a sigh of relief, I realized how hard it must be for college students to open up about their symptoms surrounding depression and agree to start treatment. There is an unfair stigma attached to anxiety and depression, which likely discourages these students from seeking the help they need. “It’s embarrassing,” Margaret explained. “ I’m usually a happy person. Only crazy people are on anti-depressants.”
This is where Margaret is wrong. Depression is not exclusive to “crazy people.” Students all over this campus are experiencing extreme levels of stress, anxiety, depression they are not used to, all of which can make a person feel uneasy and inadequate. Within the past two weeks, I’ve witnessed two friends open up about their anxiety and depression, and have read three separate, unrelated college papers about the same problem. Obviously, this concern is widespread and not only an issue for the mentally ill.
Though college is supposed to be the four greatest years of our lives, it is also an extremely strange and eccentric time for all of us. One minute you’re pulling an all-nighter, the next minute you’re binge drinking, and then the next you’re hungover, regretting every stupid thing you did the night before, while simultaneously writing up a 10-page that’s due in an hour. So much is expected of us that we’d have enough work to keep us exclusively in the library for our four years of college if we wanted to. But then everyone is also telling us to experience more, get out, and have fun. How can we do all at once? We’re stretched so thin, it’s no wonder this builds up after a while and makes us feel anxious, stressed, and on the point of a breakdown.
What’s important is that students seek help when they need it. CAPS is a highly confidential place where students can go for support, and it’s free! It’s about time we all take advantage of everything we’re already paying for in our tuition, and employ all the university’s resources. The more open and educated we are about college students’ depression and anxiety, the faster we can erase the negative stigma surrounding it.
By: Emily Coyle
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)