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.
Exams are one of the most stressful aspects of college. Here are a few of my tips when buckling down to prepare for an exam:
1) Take study breaks! Studies show that taking breaks can improve your focus and attention.
2) Get enough sleep! When you get more sleep, you consolidate memories more, especially exam material. There is loads of research on this, it is pretty fascinating.
3) Space out your learning. Although it may be difficult to start studying early for an exam, it is extremely helpful. This way you can stress less and form memories (of class material in this case) that will last much longer.
4) Study with other people. It is always helpful to say things out loud and work through problems with other people. You can bounce ideas off of each other and work together in a team environment. Studying is a lot more fun this way too!
5) Take five minutes to relax right before your exam. Don't cram minutes before the exam, it only stresses you out further. You won't learn concepts immediately before an exam, so just relax and be confident! Remembering to do these things helps me keep my mind healthy, especially throughout finals week. Your mental health is of the utmost importance!
Music has always played a role in my life. I would find my experiences and myself in the lyrics and would get lost in the melodies. As I got older, I realized how much of an impact music truly had on me. Music was the one thing that understood how I felt when no one else did. We all know struggling with mental illness can be hard as it is, but for me, music aided in relieving the pain. So for this post, in hopes of helping those who need an escape from their mind, I made a list of songs that relate to what many of us are feeling in the darkness and in healing.
Also, I’d love to hear what you guys listen to or if you have any recommendations! Enjoy.
In My Blood –Shaun Mendes
Fight Song –Rachel Platten
Unwell –Matchbox Twenty
Move Along –All American Rejects
Car Radio –Twenty One Pilots Holding On To You –Twenty One Pilots
Learn To Let Go –Kesha
1-800-273-8255 –Logic/Alessia Cara/Khalid
Soundtrack 2 My Life –Kid Cudi
Pursuit of Happiness –Kid Cudi
Breathe Me –Sia
Warrior –Demi Lovato
Skyscraper –Demi Lovato
The Middle –Jimmy Eat World
Demons –Imagine Dragons
Superheroes –The Script
Oh My Soul –Casting Crowns
Monster –Eminem and Rihanna
Fix You –Coldplay
Be Still –The Fray
Rise Up –Andra Day
Death And All His Friends –Coldplay
The Cure –Lady Gaga
Brave –Sara Bareilles
Scars To Your Beautiful –Alessia Cara
Human –Christina Perri
Who Says –Selena Gomez
Unsteady –X Ambassadors
*Note: I made this playlist on Spotify so you can find it by searching “Natalie Hammer” and/or “NAMI Blog Post Playlist”
By Kelly Weldon, NAMI-UW WiChat Coordinator
The pharmaceutical companies would have you believe that anti-depressants and anti-anxiolytics are magic pills that will instantly cure your mental ailments (my frustration with Big Pharma is shining through). As great as that would be, it’s generally a much more complicated story. My current medication offers me emotional stability and allows me to productively challenge my irrational thoughts, but before any big improvement in my mental health I walked a long and winding road littered with various prescription receipts. I share my experiences with SSRIs and SNRIs to be real about how difficult it can be to find a medication that works, but also that it can be worth the perseverance.
Escitalopram (Lexapro): I started seeing a counselor at the beginning of my junior year of high school and was quickly diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I went to therapy for a few months without any mention of medication, but it soon became a topic of conversation. I was hesitant of a prescription because that would have somehow confirmed I was sick or broken (not an accurate thought, but another blog post for another time). After deliberation about the pros and cons with my parents and my partner, I was prescribed my first medication for GAD. At first, it was everything Big Pharma would have you believe about SSRIs: I noticed stability in my mood and success when working on my CBT assignments. I was on this medication for about a year before the side effects became too much to ignore (right before college, yay!). The weirdest side effect I experienced was throwing up after meals, which was frustrating for someone who gets hungry easily.
Venlafaxine (Effexor): My doctor decided to switch me to venlafaxine right before I left for Madison. To be honest, I don’t really remember how it affected my anxiety, but I don’t think it was effective. I probably didn’t think much of it at the time because moving away was such a huge and stressful transition in my life. I was on it for about a month before the hives set in, where one morning I woke up at 6 am to a body covered in giant red blotches. I called my mom, who told me to call a nurse, who told me if my throat wasn’t swelling shut I should just pop some Benadryl. Which is what I did. For two months. I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me earlier that I was having an allergic reaction to my medication, but it probably didn’t help that all the doctors I went to said it was probably mold or laundry detergent. Finally, I went to an allergist who immediately told me to get off my medication. In those previous two months, however, I lived with blotchy, itchy skin, painful joints, and constant aches.
Fluoxetine (Prozac): I tried this prescription at the end of winter break and I didn’t notice any change for a couple of weeks. Eventually, I seemed to be stabilizing and was adjusting to school. I had even gotten a babysitting job 30 minutes away via bus! This is also when I started to notice how nauseous I was getting on the rides to and from my dorm, and then sick I would feel after elevator rides. Just little movements could make me sick for an hour afterwards and I do not deal with nausea well, so it was back to the drawing board again.
Buspirone (Buspar): By the time I got around to buspirone, I was frustrated and nervous. My doctor emailed me that I was running out of options, so something had to work soon. I did not want to hear that I might have to deal without medication, because this meant full-blown GAD again. Instead, I dutifully tried this medication as well. It did not work. I had never experienced depression before, but boy did I get a full taste of it this go around. With all my medications, I never noticed the side effects right away, as it always took time for me to come to the realization that I was inducing these side effects. I realized it this time around when having a conversation with my partner in his dorm room about how I was feeling so depressed that I wanted to die. Vocalizing this freaked us both out, and we concluded that I needed to stop this medication, which also meant I was going to have to send another email to my doctor.
Citalopram (Celexa): Low and behold, I finally found a medication that worked! My doctor was hesitant to prescribe citalopram to me because it has the same active chemical as escitalopram (my first medication). I love organic chemistry (I know, unpopular opinion), so I’ll just give a short overview. Citalopram is a mixture of two stereoisomers (R-citalopram and S-citalopram), while escitalopram only contains one stereoisomer (S-citalopram), which is the active molecule in both drugs. As enantiomers, S-citalopram and R-citalopram have the same chemical structure, but the spatial arrangement of the atoms is different. This can affect how the chemical interacts with different receptors in the brain, like a key fits into a lock. I have no idea why one had a ton of side effects and the other was my solution. It’s crazy and it’s weird, but the body is cool and complicated, so there are probably many interactions in the brain.
I have been on citalopram since the very end of my freshman year of college and it has allowed me to gain control over my anxiety. I know I painted a grim picture of doctor’s visits, new prescriptions, and side effects, but it was to get to this point! I finally can put in the work to combat my GAD and feel stable. I know that finding something that works can be incredibly frustrating, especially when advertisements tell us that medication offers a quick fix, but there is probably something out there for you. Furthermore, I know medication isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t be where I am today without other coping strategies as well. One of my biggest regrets was trying to figure out medication without actively going to therapy. I probably could have dealt with my side effects and my anxiety more effectively if I had attempted multiple strategies at once. Regardless, wherever you are in your journey to recovery and whatever you are doing, you are not alone in your struggles and perseverance can pay off. There is hope.