On some days, my mind seems to have forty-two tabs open, and on other days, it’s as if the whole system’s frozen. I am an honors student, highly involved in on-campus activities, and a friendly face on campus to many. But behind that friendly face, I struggle with OCD, panic disorder, and bipolar type II. I have always wished, begged, and prayed to be normal, but then again, a “normal” setting only makes sense when it’s on a washing machine.
Why would I write an opinion piece on being a sufferer of mental illness for my entire college to read? I am an open book. So much so that I’m an open book with a broken spine, and I’ll open up without being asked. I know that my personality allows me to take what I struggle with and advocate for others who may not feel they can advocate for themselves. Lake Forest College is a wonderfully open-minded campus, but even those who are open-minded can slip into stigma stereotypes.
I’ve found that a lot of people on campus struggle with various degrees of mental health issues and often need support but are too afraid to ask for help due to a stigma that may surround their issue. This stigma isn’t explicit all of the time.
I did not ask to have mental health issues. Nor did anyone who suffers from them. Mental health issues are genetically predisposed disorders that arise from triggers of stress. They have caused debilitation in my life before I transferred to Lake Forest College, and I have had to deal with my fair share of stigma despite not asking for it. I am not alone is this debilitation or struggle.
This stigma is often seen in looks, both of pity and distrust. I think a lot of people don’t realize that those of us with mental health issues see you when you judge us.
We see the looks of judgment when we leave class early, the looks of anger when we are given extra time or excused absences, and the looks of pity when we take deep breaths trying to steady ourselves against the mess in our brain. It is hard to control your reaction toward something that you may not understand, and for that, you are totally forgiven. We are not asking you to understand, but we are asking you to be understanding.
When someone is struggling, be an advocate. Reach out in small acts of kindness: smile, laugh with them, ask if they need the notes they may have missed or a cup of tea. More likely than not, they will politely decline. But knowing that there are advocates amongst their shaken world will steady them.
Even after a good night’s sleep, college is a difficult place to manage. As such, managing it with mental health issues is no easy feat; help others summit the climb you, too, are attempting.