Why it's Time to Normalize Prioritizing Mental Health as a College Student
I find it interesting that there seems to be so much discomfort surrounding young adults and their mental health. During these formative years, we are experiencing change in a variety of ways. Whether it's starting a new school or job or moving away from home, a lot of the time we are expected to just go with it. We aren’t always prepared for the emotions and challenges we experience with so many drastic changes in so little time. Add a pandemic into the mix, and there is no roadmap for how college students should handle their mental health. So, I thought I would share my journey to prioritizing my mental health.
In September of 2019, I transferred to the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. I had hopes of meeting new friends, exploring a new place, and finally getting a taste of that “college experience” so many people had talked about. Looking back, I’d call my first two months the “honeymoon phase.” I had awesome roommates, met new friends and got involved in school. But as the honeymoon phase died down, I found myself overwhelmed with so many different emotions: stress, change, loneliness, sadness.
It became hard to even communicate what I was feeling to the people who cared so much about me because I could barely comprehend it myself. Rather than doing anything about it, I labeled those days that I felt down “a funk.” I would let myself feel for a couple days and then jump back into the swing of life without ever addressing why I was feeling that way.
A couple months later, COVID-19 hit. My roommates headed home along with many of my friends and I found myself alone in a city that I myself was still new to. I’ve always taken pride in being a very independent individual and have loved my alone time, but I had never experienced such solitude before.
I was spending more time in my head, thinking, questioning and sometimes going days barely speaking out loud. Not because I didn't want to, but because I just didn’t have anyone around me to talk to. I realized changes in my behavior: increase in sleeping, decrease in appetite, avoiding interactions, moodiness, etc. This is when I realized something needed to change and I couldn’t do it on my own.
I started my journey by confiding in a close loved one. Although I was full of relief that my feelings were being heard and validated, hearing “everything is going to be okay” was just not enough for me. I wanted to learn how to process and work through my issues in a healthy way. It was at this point that I realized it was time to ask for help and not just help from family or friends, but from a qualified therapist.
In my personal experience of prioritizing my mental health, I have realized three major challenges: recognizing that I need help, actually going and getting help, and putting in the actual work to be the person I want to be. When I realized that I didn't have the tools to work through my thoughts and emotions on my own, it took me a month or two to actually start looking for a therapist. And when I started looking for a therapist it took me a month to actually meet with them. And that’s okay.
If there is anything I would like to emphasize, it's that all of our journeys look different. Our experiences, challenges and healing processes are uniquely our own. However our journey’s may look, we all deserve the opportunity, the time, and the space to work on ourselves. We deserve a healthy mind, healthy body, and healthy soul.
I have now been meeting with my therapist for over a month now, alongside using the resources provided at the Health and Wellness Center at Cal Poly. In all honesty, it’s hard work, but it’s work I am proud of. I made the choice to not succumb to the part of my brain that was telling me I didn’t deserve any better and instead chose to fight for me.
I encourage you all to choose yourselves. Be selfish. Recognize that these feelings, although not always talked about, are normal and most importantly aren’t your fault. Normalize these conversations with your friends and family. Use the resources your school provides. Put in the work now and your future self will thank you.