Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Struggling with mental health in college

I hope what I learned this year will help with the years to come

Caroline+O%27Connor
Caroline O'Connor

Caroline O'Connor

Katherine Mayo

Katherine Mayo

Caroline O'Connor

By Sophie Allen, Collegian columnist

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The first year of college is often regarded as a time to discover yourself: People figure out their majors, their interests, who their friends are and what they actually like to do in their free time. For me, college has mostly been a period of a different kind of self-discovery. I’ve known what I wanted to study and what I wanted to do with my life since I was six years old. I’ve certainly had time to go out and meet new people and try new things, but my main issue throughout the year has been mental health.

An entirely new environment can be a difficult period of transition for most people. As someone who has struggled with anxiety since early adolescence, I was confused to find that at first, college presented no new hurdles. My roommate, possibly the most charismatic person I’ve ever met, made it easy to make new friends on our floor and go out to parties to meet new people. Socially, things were going well. Academically, there were some speed bumps, but I generally thought I was doing well.

The thing about anxiety is that there doesn’t need to be any major trigger. Nothing needs to be going horribly wrong. Sometimes, anxiety just sneaks up and makes all the little things worse. So when that happened to me in the middle of my first semester, and I lost my ability to focus on work, my desire to interact with people and my ambition to succeed, I knew I needed to learn to cope differently. At home, I saw a counselor regularly. I could walk two minutes and be on the beach, where I found the ocean sounds soothing and felt removed from my own brain. I could see the same friends I’d known since childhood. But college was entirely new, and none of these coping methods were available to me. I was back to square one.

So what could I do, besides take depression naps and ignore my responsibilities? I found that there were little ways I could remove stressors from my life and make things easier. When my room is messy, I find myself worrying more. When I don’t know exactly what I have to do in the next week or so, I find myself doubting my internal calendar. If I’m dressed sloppily, I feel more self-conscious. Those points were where I began. From there, I realized I needed to write down where I was and what I was doing when I felt particularly anxious and see if there were any more commonalities.

It wasn’t until the beginning of my second semester that I noticed I still had a lot of excess energy and that my constant fidgeting could give way to nervous habits like biting my nails and picking my cuticles. I started going to the gym, which took care of that. I started seeing a counselor every other week.

I should add at this point that I have been taking medication consistently since high school. Not everyone needs medication as part of their treatment, and I don’t think I’ll need it forever, but I’m not going to claim that exercise and cleaning and dressing nicely magically cured me.

Looking back, I think it makes sense that figuring out what’s best for me took six months of trial and error. I’m sure I still have a lot of messing up and learning to do, but I hope what I’ve determined so far will make next year easier and what I learn next year will help with the year after that. Dealing with mental illness is a constant uphill battle and learning curve. And I’m not static. As I change, my coping mechanisms will need to evolve. For now, though, I have to hope that what I’ve figured out so far will be enough.

Sophie Allen is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Struggling with mental health in college”

  1. Ed Cutting, Ed. D. on April 29th, 2018 12:28 am

    I need to say this:

    ADHD is way under-diagnosed in women, and UMass seems to have some pathological and neurological objection to even admitting that it exists.

    I’m going to add this: The symptoms described above (along with the benefit of the beach) can be (I’m not saying “are”) indicative of the the version of ADHD that is 98% female — Inattentive ADHD.

    It may not be the case here, but to other young women who read this and see themselves, you really want to ask about that possibility…. It’s way more common than you think.

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