The First Year Blues

By: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell

So, you leave a place that for better or worse you have spent more time at then home for four years. You move away or most your friends move away, or both in some cases. You’re away from the watchful eye or eyes of your parental units for possibly the first time in your life. And now you have to be a grown up. The best years of your life are all set to begin. Right? But what if it doesn’t feel like the best?

Okay, so here are a couple of not so fun facts:

  1. It’s estimated that one in four young adults experience some form of mental illness.
  2. About 25% of college students are diagnosed with some sort of mental illness.
  3. 64% of college students who leave school, leave for reasons related to mental health.
  4. 80% of college students have admitted to feeling overwhelmed.
  5. 40% of students with diagnosed mental illnesses do not seek help.

Why did I just tell you all of these things? Because people will tell you about all the fun you will have in college. And there is fun. People will advise you on classes and meal plans. People will even advise you on study tips. But one important thing that people neglect to tell incoming freshmen is that the transition from high school to college is not only academic but emotional.

Isabelle Lawson knows all too well how hard the emotional transition can be. “It was the strangest thing in the world. I went into college with really high expectations, and the way I ended up feeling versuss the way I expected to feel were really different.” She said, going on to recall, “ I’d never been away from home for more than I few weeks. And suddenly I was in this whole new city where I didn’t know anyone. I was surprised that I felt so homesick and more that I felt so disconnected. I couldn’t sleep or eat really and I was just so lonely all the time. Things got better, for sure, but now when I talk to people I realize that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way and I just wonder ‘why didn’t we talk about this?’

There are those who come into college and have either been in treatment for depression, anxiety, or some other form of mental illness.  For people entering college with depression or anxiety all the changes can be especially challenging. “I decided that I really wanted to go out of state for college, get a fresh start,” said Alec Henley, “And going away for school wasn’t a bad choice, I just should have had a better plan in place. I’d been struggling with anxiety since high school and I’d been in therapy for it for a few years. I thought I’d be fine, but with all the craziness and without any support, I found myself really backsliding. The more intense classes got, and the more people I had to interact with, the more I would end up hyperventilating in my room alone.  Before school started I told my parents I’d be fine, and I really thought that, but looking back I should have probably found a new therapist before moving to Pittsburgh to see regularly.”

Some people beginning college have diagnoses and have been dealing with them for years; however, other people find themselves experiencing depression for the first time as they enter the world of higher education. Why? Simply put, all the changes. You leave your parents, most of your friends, you might even be in a whole new city for the first time, and suddenly you are buried in schoolwork. This all happens in a very short amount of time, when probably only three months ago you needed hall passes. One of many problems with this is that whether the symptoms are new or old, students often don’t seek help. Why? A common reason is shame. “I know it’s not true now, but at the time I honestly felt that I was the only one, like there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t just be happy like everyone else seemed to be,” Isabelle admitted, “I didn’t even know how to begin to explain what I was feeling to anyone. I was a semester in before I finally decided to go to the counseling center.”

So, while keeping in mind that I am not a licensed therapist (or even a licensed driver), I offer anyone reading this advice:

  1. If you go college and you already have diagnosis and a treatment plan in place don’t abandon it. With all the changes happening, chances are you’ll need it more than ever.
  2. If you find yourself experiencing depression symptoms you haven’t before, there’s no shame in that. Just like there’s no shame in seeking help.
  3. Try to maintain as much of your support system as you can.
  4. This will sound cliché, but remember you’re not alone.

Statistics aside, experiencing depression or anxiety doesn’t make you weak. It’s just another form of illness, and seeking help for it is no more shameful than getting a cast for a broken arm. So if you find yourself struggling and whether the feelings are new or old, here are a few places to go that may be able to help.

Online: To Write Love On Her Arms
www.twlohr.com

Over the Phone: Emergency Crisis Team
(888) 796-8226
Provides 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year telephone, mobile crisis, walk-in and crisis overnight residential services.

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ)
1-866-4-U-TREVOR

In Person:
For a list of local or university counseling services, please visit http://www.studentguidetopittsburgh.com/health/counseling-therapy.htm
And remember, “Some days life is all about your dreams, hopes, and visions of the future. But there are some days where life is just about putting one foot in front of the other. And that’s okay.”