It wasn’t until college that my mental well-being truly, consciously became a priority for me. I had been affected by suicide in high school, when a fellow student took his own life. It was unbelievably heartbreaking.
The transition to college led me to seek help. It had recently become clear to me that I had anxiety, and this was only emphasized by my moving away from home, friends, and familiarity. I recognized that mental health is a constant in everyone’s life: something I must take the time to acknowledge and attend to. After going through a short screening process at my university’s counseling center, I spoke to someone weekly throughout my freshman and sophomore years. We discussed friendships, relationships, family, school, and anxieties surrounding life’s unknowns.
In therapy, it felt like a door to a room in my brain that had been locked had now been opened: the lights turned on, and newfound clarity taking place. It was an awakening. School became more enjoyable, rather than a stressor, while my friendships and family bonds grew stronger. For me, it made life as a whole feel exciting, rather than something I feared.
I was unfortunately affected by suicide loss three more times during my last few years of college. Although I wasn’t personally acquainted with the three classmates who took their lives, their losses haunted me. Their losses haunted everyone. All the students’ hearts were heavy at the thought of having lost someone who attended our school and who may have lived in our building, shared a class, or sat next to us at a school football game.
No one wanted history to repeat itself, so action was taken.
In response to these suicide deaths, the school held memorials, walks and support groups, and emphasized counseling that was available to students. More and more, now, I see students prioritizing their mental health. We’ve begun to turn to each other, speak out on social media about mental health, seek help, prioritize ourselves, and care for each other. Collectively, we have decided to face our individual battles. I can see the relationship my fellow students have with mental health evolving in real time.
While this is all amazing, more must be done. The conversation about mental health and suicide prevention has been increasing in general, and colleges must keep up and support students along their journey. School counseling centers must improve by increasing accessibility through larger, diverse staff that can support specific needs. Professors must understand the weight behind the statement, “I need a mental health day,” and allow for a day off, extended deadlines or any accommodations that may reasonably be necessary for a student’s mental wellbeing. College administrations must provide more mental-health-centered events and resources, whether it’s therapy dogs, support groups, or organized self-care activities such as a yoga class or creating stress balls together. Clubs and classes focused on mental health should exist and be utilized.
It’s empowering to see college students unify and take a step towards a better future: one in which we understand that mental health is real; that having open, honest conversations about what we’re going through, with people we trust, is important; and that checking in on yourself and your friends is vital. I encourage other students to reach out to their loved ones, and to show themselves compassion and respect.
Now, as a senior, I have returned once again to therapy. I’m taking the time to get to know myself. The process has led me to a growing acceptance, understanding, and comfort with my own mental health. Seeing the world change for the better, with more people growing increasingly open about mental health, and more comfortable turning to each other, gives me hope for the future.