By H.D., Guest Writer
I started off freshman year of college nervous, yet excited. I knew I would be in for a whirlwind of experiences, both good and bad.
What I didn’t know was that I would have another roommate besides the one that I was assigned: my mental illness. I had battled severe depression since the age of 14, and at the age of 18 I was hoping for a fresh start.
In the U.S., one in five adults (43.8 million Americans) have a mental disorder and more than 25 percent of college students are diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental illness. I knew I wasn’t alone in my struggles, but I was in a different state, around all new people, and had virtually no support system.
I was eager to begin classes and dive into the social aspects of college, but everything proved harder than I had expected. My grades began to suffer and I couldn’t get out of bed to go to class most days. I would sleep most of the day and stay awake at night, alone and scared.
On a rough day I had no one to turn to. I was making friends, but when everything and everyone around you is brand new and unfamiliar, it’s not easy to let them in on your deep, dark secret.
I felt an elephant in the room whenever I was with people. No one knew what was going on and it made adapting to college life much harder.
The thing about college is that you’re surrounded by people at all hours of the day. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without someone being in the stall next to me, yet I had never felt so alone.
I made one friend in early August who I began to confide in. By October I was closer with this person than anyone else I had met on campus. It was good to have someone to lean on living right down the hall from me.
College forces you to bond with people faster. You find people that you can relate to and look to for that moment of sanity amidst exams, roommate problems and homesickness.
Being a freshman I was on my own for the first time in my life. After a terrible GPA first semester, I knew I needed to make a change. I had to take control of my own life.
In spring semester I sought help. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I began taking medication to help me deal with daily activities. I didn’t want to use my medication or illness as a crutch, but rather to learn to live with it in a healthy and happy manner. It was still difficult most days, but I was learning to adapt.
Eventually, I switched rooms and moved in with my best friend on campus. Being closer to someone who helped me through so many hard times was a huge help. My grades, class attendance and overall mood began to improve.
I wasn’t going to let living with a mental illness affect me any longer.
Nearly 64 percent of Americans who have dropped out of college dropped out due to mental health issues. Around 45 percent of those who have dropped out for those reasons didn’t seek help.
My advice to anyone dealing with any sort of mental illness in college is to seek help. Seeking help for a mental illness is just as important as asking a professor for help on an exam or going to the doctor to get antibiotics.
Mental health is more important than most students admit. I refused to get help because I thought that being an adult on my own meant I could handle my problems.
Getting help improved not only my mental health, but also my life overall. I have better relationships with my family and friends, my grades are improving more with each coming semester, and I feel more adjusted to college life. It is still a struggle everyday, but I am learning to accept every challenge and how to overcome them.
College helped me start to grow into the woman who I want to be. College gave me some of the best friends I could ask for and some of the best experiences. Deep down I know I’ll always have the other roommate following behind me, but freshman year taught me that I am strong enough live on my own with the hell that is a mental disorder.
Editor’s Note: All of the statistics on mental illness were provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Visit the site for more information on mental illness.