In my experience, the stigma surrounding mental health issues is more silent than loud. It appears during subtle moments like disregarding one’s own pain, making jokes about certain disorders, and denying people validation for their feelings. I feel the root of the problem is that there is a legitimate lack of knowledge or awareness regarding the suffering associated with mental illness. That explanation feels almost like a cop-out, but it would be unfair to assume every individual that contributes to stigma has a vindictive motivation behind it; sometimes the reaction to people’s behavior is beyond what they imagined and intended. It’s more important, then, to continue widespread campaigns of normalizing mental health to eradicate that excuse. To contribute to that mission in my own way, I’d like to share how I view mental health. I think of mental health as resilience-- the quality of recovering successfully and quickly, and returning to a well-adjusted state after sustaining stress. Being well-adjusted, to me, means contentment in the face of everyday stressors. One of my favorite ways to conceptualize mental health is as an analogue to physical health; mental health means withstanding the invasion of infections (stressors) before they manifest as illness. People are born with different vulnerabilities to certain mental ailments just as they are for physical ones. As well, there are illnesses in both domains one would not want to let “run its course”-- like cancer, a broken bone, major depressive disorder, personality disorders, etc. So, this necessitates a more in-depth focus on mental health since it, arguably, presents the same risks to health as physical health. This can't happen if people's fear of being judged outweighs their desire to get healthier. Overall, I think the battle to eliminate stigma is a battle fought by individuals on a day to day basis. Catch people making mistakes and correct them, nicely. Be mindful of yourself and how you treat yourself. Believe and validate friends when they share difficult feelings with you. Ask for help. Promote asking for help. Share your own conceptualization of mental health with as many people as you can. Just don’t let the conversation die down. I know I won’t.
This year has been the start of my journey with mental health issues. During high school, people would talk about how they had stress and test anxiety, and I would feel the need to agree with them. Stress and anxiety was part of the high school experience so it almost felt like I was out of the loop if I didn't agree. Looking back on it now, I don't think I really felt stress back then, or at least not like I do now. The end of senior year marked an important moment for me. The first time I physically felt my fear of failure in my body or at least that's what I thought it was. My chest felt like I had just had my heart broken and I couldn't stop crying. I came to the realization that it wasn't the test scores or GPAs that upset me, rather the possibility that others might question my intelligence. As an insecure child, my intelligence was the one area where I felt confident and my strength. It makes sense that this would also be an area of vulnerability. This situation that I will describe will sound simple and almost like it doesn't matter, but it is the primary reason for my mental health issue so I suggest keeping an open mind before you continue reading. If I managed to get an A in just one of my classes (the rest I knew for sure), then I would successfully get above a 4.0 GPA and receive a gold stole. If I got an A-, I would be at a 3.999 and I would receive a silver stole. That night that grades were finalized I found out, after calculating GPAs, that I would be receiving silver. This was because I made a simple mistake and missed one online assignment that was not worth very much. That was the night. I was so afraid that the physical display of a silver stole would show my lack of intelligence and reveal something to my peers; "she's not as smart as she seem..." This situation was resolved only because my teacher accepted the late assignment two weeks later, so I did not have to think about that again for awhile. The night before my freshman chemistry exam, I remembered that moment during senior year and the horrible weight in my chest accompanied by the impending feeling of doom. I did not sleep until 4am. The next morning I was upset at my roommates for disturbing my sleep. I came back after my 8am class to try to sleep before the exam at 12. I still could not sleep. I took the exam, failed and ultimately did not care. The mature student in me recognized that I would be able to improve, and that I did. After the exam, I was much more emotionally upset about my lack of sleep than I was about my failure. The week after that I got progressively more upset at my roommates and the little noises they were making at night or day. I blamed them for my lack of sleep and failed to recognize the obvious connection to my mental health. It was not until my roommate pointed out my constant nitpicking that I recognized this. At this point in my life, I can say that I am not a stranger to mental health issues. I've done extensive advocacy work on removing the stigma against mental health issues, especially in communities of color. Somehow, I was blind to my own issues. Somehow, in the midst of all of this knowledge on these issues, I could not see the simple truth before me. What's even more interesting is that I was always internally overconfident while I was doing advocacy work. "This would never happen to me, because I'd be able to recognize my own issues right away". "I wouldn't put off seeing a doctor or talking to someone". These thoughts all had one consistent theme: I am above this. I am here to inform you that NO ONE is above mental health issues. Our natural human inability to pay attention to all aspects of our life and our health prevents us from being able to see ourselves from an unbiased perspective. The only way to immediately recognize these issues is to reflect on ourselves. However it takes a certain extensive long term and short term reflection to even begin to recognize these issues. Even if a person has the time and the awareness to do all of this work to "stay ahead of the game", their natural socialized reaction to the possibility that they even have an issue may be denial. This was exactly what happened to me. I think some deep part of me understood and knew what was going on but it was almost too scary to bring to conscious thought. I can assure anyone reading this that the moment you consciously recognize what's happening, you can begin to clear your mind and look for help. Not knowing or not being aware feels like limbo. That moment when I realized and accepted that something deeper was going on, I felt liberated. I would recommend sitting down, just once a month and reflecting on any emotional imbalances that have occurred. Question yourself about the cause. Try to figure out exactly where it started. Then examine all of the different ways it has impacted your life. I think that doing this exercise too often may cause you to lose the understanding of long term effects, but not doing it often enough would cause you to fail to remember the important events. Find the time that works best for you. Good luck, be safe, and remember that NAMI is always here if you need anything.
My experiences with anxiety and depression began around the age of fifteen. There were multiple factors that I feel contributed to my mental illnesses, but I will be talking about one major one. My overall advice for anyone reading, or those who also struggle with similar issues, is to do what is best for you, not what you feel others think is best for you. Ever since the age of three, dance had been a huge part of my life. My sophomore year of high school I made our school's varsity dance team. This is where dance changed from something that lifted me up and boosted my spirits to something that caused great insecurity and self doubt. I was a weak link on my team and personally targeted by my dance coach. She criticized me, not just as a dancer but as a person. I dreading going to practice every single day, wishing the school day wouldn't end. I would walk into the gym shaking, often with tears in my eyes. I saw myself as a complete failure because I wasn't able to perform the way that was expected of me. It was about half way through the six month season when I decided I would finish out that year, but not return to the team afterwards. Many people encouraged me to stay on the team, saying I had improved and the next year would be better. But, keeping my best interest in mind, I felt the team had become an extremely toxic place for me that hurt my mental state severely. I made a point to do what was going to be best for myself, and not others. This was hard as I felt I was letting those around me down, being that I always want to please others. Looking back this was a great decision as I removed an extremely negative aspect from my life. From this I was able to make more time for the things that lifted me, such as friends, family, music, and church. I dealt with a great amount of shame for leaving the team but I couldn't continue dealing with the toxicity. I don't say this to put down sports teams or to encourage those to give up on things that are tough. But, if there is an aspect of your life that is bringing you down, not lifting you up, do what you feel is best for yourself. Take away others' opinions, judgements and thoughts, and focus on your own.
Like many people, transitioning into college wasn’t easy for me. After the first semester, I was noticeably different and would sleep my days away while not allowing time to take care of myself. Although I knew something was wrong, being diagnosed with depression finally put me at ease because I was hopeful a solution could be quickly implemented. A psychiatrist prescribed me escitalopram, an SSRI category antidepressant which did help get rid of many of my symptoms. Overtime, the medicine became less effective for me and I became too tired to be able to go to my classes. My friend recommended that I try cannabidiol (CBD) oil after she felt a surge of benefits in her everyday life. Skeptical of its legitimacy, I decided to give it a try myself and could not have been happier with the results. CBD doesn’t create a “high” effect like many believe but instead gets rid of negative feelings related to anxiety and depression. Other examples of how it can be used include to combat epilepsy and neurodegenerative disorders and for pain relief. Within my first use I already noticed my mood become more elevated, feeling of anxiety diminish and I felt more awake which was a huge bonus for me. I continue to use it every day and am astonished by great of a fit this is for regulating my mental health. Everyone’s mental health journey is unique to them and there is no “one glove fits all” solution. This is why I believe trying different things or making changes to your lifestyle can have a much larger impact than you would expect on everyday life. If you are struggling with mild anxiety or depression, I highly recommend giving CBD oil a shot and you may be pleasantly surprised by the result!
I didn’t fully realize how the people I surround myself would affect my mental health, general well-being, and self-perception until my second year of college at UW – Madison. I didn’t realize how much I had been dragged down by the people I surrounded myself with until I was around people who genuinely love and support me. In previous years, I was friends with extremely toxic people. They were extremely exclusive, unwelcoming, and judgmental. But in my small Minnesotan hometown, that’s how most people acted so it seemed normal. I always felt like my heart was out of place, like I had been raised differently than my so-called friends at the time. My senior year was the worst of them all. I stopped speaking with my “friends” and stayed home every night. I began self-harming and cried almost every day. I was extremely unhappy. My parents forced me to begin therapy and I was soon put on medication for anxiety and depression (which I am now extremely grateful for). The medication calmed my mind and helped me realize how terribly my friends were treating me, helped me stand up to them, and helped me make a change. I went out on my own and started with a clean slate my freshman year at college. I found my real friends at college. These people that I have met have hearts like mine, they are genuine, they are kind, and they care. They care about me more than I could ever have imagined and more than I deserve sometimes. I also became very close with my parents when I went away to college and my new chemically-balanced brain allowed me to see how much they genuinely cared about me as well. Here and now, I am now happy, content, and I love myself and those around me. I owe this to the company I now keep very close to my heart: my friends and family. Note: Although the struggle of mental illness is not completely caused by the company you keep, the people you choose to be around still do play a large role in your happiness.
By Taylor Hurst
Mental illness affects each and every person in our world whether it is directly, through personal experience, or indirectly, through friends and family. No matter where you stand in your experience with mental illness, I can assure you that you are not alone. You are not alone as a survivor and you are not alone as a supporter. There is an arsenal of support behind you, but in many cases, people don’t realize it. It can be easy to see yourself as a lone soldier in a battlefield of stress, school work, and mental illness. However, I encourage you to stop, take a breath, look around you, and recognize how many resources are available to you whether you are a survivor, supporter, or both. Are you having difficulty identifying support? If so, do not worry. You are not alone. Many people are unaware of the resources on campus and I’m writing this article to change that perception and allow you to recognize the endless support that surrounds you. Let’s begin with a resource that I believe is truly overlooked: University Health Services, also known as UHS for short. The no-cost mental health services at UHS include individual, couple/partner, group counseling, campus-based programming, stress management, and psychiatry services. They also offer crisis services, which are available 24/7. Getting started is as smooth as freshly scooped Babcock ice cream. You can simply schedule an Access Appointment to collaboratively determine your needs and connect you to the best resources. This can be done by calling the MHS reception desk or logging into MyUHS to schedule an appointment. From there, you will have a short 15-20 minute phone screening with an Access Specialist who will listen to your concerns, ask you questions, and connect you with the best resources on and off campus. That’s it. You don’t need to spend hours researching their services or determining which services are best for you. The Access Specialist is there to do that and realizes that opening up can be difficult, and their mission is to make the process as easy as possible for you. A few of my favorite programs offered by UHS are Let’s Talk, SilverCloud, and Let’s Yoga, just to name a few (which are all FREE, by the way). You can learn more by accessing their website at https://www.uhs.wisc.edu/mental-health/. Another great resource is a hub of sorts for mental illness services, and they are the student organizations on campus! There are a plethora of mental health services offered by students, for students. I’ll describe a few useful organizations, but there are many others who are more than willing to support you in your mental health journey. The first, and my personal, non-biased favorite, is NAMI-UW. NAMI stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to helping Americans affected by mental illness through education, advocacy, and support. A UW-Madison chapter of NAMI is located in the Student Activity Center (SAC) and offers numerous support groups and resources. Another great student organization is BadgerSPILL, which stands for Supporting Peers in Laidback Listening. BadgerSPILL is a peer-to-peer support network of and for UW-Madison students. You can write in online to “spill” or vent privately about whatever you are going through to get unbiased feedback, empathy, and resources from other students who have dealt with similar situations. Both parties are anonymous to one another and you will get multiple responses within 48 hours. The last resource that I will touch on is Ask.Listen.Save. Ask.Listen.Save. is a student org that aims to prevent suicide by reducing the stigma of mental illness. Through educating the student body, they aim to increase the awareness of mental illness and create a safe environment in which students know they are not alone and can feel free to ask for help. They have an office in the SAC which has a ton of amazing handouts and they often have Dogs on Call so it’s worth a look! Keep in mind that these are just three of the many student organizations on campus that are more than willing to help and I suggest getting involved to receive aid and build a strong support system. This last resource is a sacred one, and it’s a very well hidden secret. Are you sure that you’re ready to know it? I certainly hope so because here it is…the most valuable resource is…YOURSELF! The biggest form of support in your life should come from yourself! I encourage you to practice self-care and self-love in every situation you find yourself in. Treat yourself as your true best friend. Don’t tell yourself things that you would never tell your best friend. Give yourself support and comfort in times of need. Celebrate your accomplishments. Laugh at yourself. Love yourself! It may take a lot of practice and the process may be difficult, but it is possible. You have the strength within you to treat yourself as your true best friend. You are not alone on the UW Madison campus. You have the support of University Health Services, the support of numerous student organizations, the support of those around you, and most importantly, the support from your true best friend – yourself! I encourage you to stop, take a breath, look around you, and recognize how many resources are available to you as a survivor, supporter, or both. You are not alone on the UW Madison campus, I promise.
By Beth Allen
While I was initially confronting my anxiety, I was told to try meditation. I got to a point where I meditated for five to ten minutes per day, and I found that it was extremely helpful for my relaxation. My sleep improved and I felt a lot better. However, as time went on and AP tests approached, I found it hard to prioritize anything that wasn’t essential. Thus, I stopped meditating every day. Now, looking back, my mental health did suffer a lot. I was a lot more stressed on a daily basis. After one NAMI meeting, I decided to prioritize meditation again. I came back to my dorm and meditated for ten minutes. I cannot put into words how good that felt. I used the link to the calming music and set a ten minute timer. Before starting my meditation, I was worried about an upcoming essay for my French class. After that alarm went off, I felt like all of my stress has melted away. It was absolutely amazing. The next day, I felt the strong urge to not take the time for myself and meditate for ten minutes. After all, there were several other things that I thought were more important. So, I compromised and did only five minutes of meditation. It still felt amazing. I plan on doing this for a week and seeing how my worldview and sleep are affected. I have had a lot of trouble sleeping in the past, so I hope that this will be able to help me sleep better. Also, with exams and due dates approaching, it is more important than ever to consider my mental health and find ways to diminish stress. Even if I am taking time for myself, I need to remind myself that taking time to relax will improve my mood and make me more productive.
As it starts getting colder and gloomier here in Wisconsin, seasonal depression may start to affect some people. One method of treatment that is becoming more popular is light therapy, or phototherapy. This type of therapy involves a light box that mimics outdoor light which is lacking in the winter. Although it will not completely relieve you of your symptoms of SAD, light therapy affects the hormones melatonin and serotonin which help regulate mood and sleep. This method works best if it is used consistently and in the morning to mimic the sun rising.
However, a light box isn’t the only way to get a dose of sunlight in the winter months. Try going for a morning walk! Not only will it give you that much needed vitamin D, it will also get you up and out of bed so you can start your day. If the cold is too much for you, eating breakfast by the window is another alternative and a good way to get some sun exposure.
Wisconsin’s long winters can be tough and may feel like they will never end, but summer always rolls back around eventually. Until then we should do our best to get what sunlight we can!
Stigma sucks. It is a mindset so strong that even those who advocate for, educate on behalf of, and support those with mental illnesses; even those with a best friend, a parent, a sibling with a mental illness; and even those who suffer from a mental illness themselves often still carry around some amount of stigma. This doesn’t have to mean that you believe someone else is lesser because of their mental illness, or that their illness doesn’t matter, stigma also manifests itself in the person who feels embarrassed to ask for help, the person who acts uncomfortable when their friend needs to vent about their struggles, and the person who cancels plans because their “stomach hurts,” not because they’re anxious. These actions aren’t inherently bad, but they occur because of stigma and unintentionally promote it by silencing the conversation. These three occurrences could have started a conversation with a parent, a friend, a peer. They could have been conversations that opened someone’s eyes, got someone help, or caused the spread of conversation, which is the best way to reduce stigma. We need to start talking to each other and work through the discomfort because eventually, the more conversations we have, the more acceptable talking about mental illness can be.
Have you ever felt like you’ve just been going through the motions of recovery? Sure, you haven’t relapsed, but you still don’t feel “fully healed.” You made it through the bulk of recovery, but there are still aspects of your disorder lingering in the background. Aspects that you want gone, but haven’t tried too terribly hard to let go of. If your anything like me, sometimes I feel like I’m coasting in recovery.
My treatment began years ago at the beginning of high school––I spent countless hours with therapists, psychiatrists, dieticians, and physicians and made many improvements over the next year or two. Fast forward to now, I feel SO much better mentally, physically and emotionally (don’t get me wrong!), but my obsessive compulsiveness and eating disorder haven’t completely vanished and I don’t know if they ever will.
This summer, I’d had enough of just coasting through recovery and felt the urge to challenge myself. I practiced ordering French fries every once and awhile instead of always picking the “healthier” side option. I started to opt for walks instead of grueling work outs on days when my body needed extra rest. I started honoring my hunger cues more honestly, sometimes having two breakfasts or another helping at dinner. Although these may seem like little, hardly significant changes, they have been so incredibly empowering. They were just what I needed to reestablish that I am in control of my life, not my eating disorder.
So, if you feel a force compelling you to make some changes, face some fears, and grow––listen. You may be just as amazed as me with the result.