Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A message to the silent victims of mental health

By Becky Wandel

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Collegian File Photo

(Collegian File Photo)

A few months ago I wrote a column called “Put Yourself First and School Second” in which I encouraged students who felt out of place at school to seek help and not be afraid to take time off. My target audience was all students, but particularly those students who suffer from one or more mental illnesses that effect their capacity for participation in standardized education.

It occurs to me now that there is a whole population of my peers who I did not properly address in that article – those of you who suffer quietly from a mental illness, perhaps undiagnosed. To you I say this:

Many among us are unsettlingly familiar with the effects of depression or eating disorders or anxiety, but have been able to keep it to ourselves. Many of us have learned to “cope” with atypical mental health well enough so that it won’t obstruct the “normal” lives we’ve put together.

But the truth is, coping with your illness to the point of being able to maintain a veil of normalcy isn’t necessarily coping at all. Truly coping with a mental illness involves a lot of things, the most essential being asking for help. This is the thing I see so many people bending over backwards to avoid.

There is a great strength and a great skill in suffering in silence – in being able to plough ahead and be tough. But in the case of health, this is not an ideal path to aspire to.

If you feel like this article is about you, I provide, from great personal experience and at the risk of sounding like a preachy self-help fanatic, the following advice:

First, acknowledge that you need a change. No matter how normal it feels for you to live with your mental illness, no matter how inherent it seems in your personality, take this opportunity to recognize that it is in fact holding you back.

Next you need to seek help. This is a kind of fake-it-till-you-make-it process of asking for help and pretending you don’t feel shameful for it. Eventually you actually won’t.

Then it’s persist, persist, persist. Seeking mental health treatment is a convoluted scary process that is daunting and embarrassing for even the most shameless advocates for mental health de-stigmatization (me). But you have to do it anyway. Don’t give up until you find someone who can help you regularly and in the way you need.

From personal experience and for the purpose of this article, I advocate psychotherapy. It is tested and effective and most importantly it holds you accountable for your own treatment. Look for someone. Push, push, push.

Don’t let yourself fall victim to the trap of feeling high-maintenance or stupid for seeking help. The process can make you feel like that, but remember your acknowledgement that this is something you need and want and are entitled to have. Keep revisiting that thought until you find someone who can help you.

I went through this process in high school and because of it I have had the privilege of working with the same psychotherapist for three years and psychiatrist for two. I could sing my doctors’ praises all day, and I often do, because they changed my life in immeasurably positive ways. A commitment to psychotherapy is a commitment to wellness and, as will always come with it, success.

All of this being said, I am not a doctor, just an observer and a sufferer who wants to help my friends. If you feel like some of this stuff applies to you I encourage you to read this article written by actual doctors. It comprehensively explains what signs indicate a possible need for psychotherapy and how to find a provider etc.

So give it a try. See how it goes. If you need help, you can always email me about it.

You have nothing to lose, so why not?

Becky Wandel is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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