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Getting help when you need it

More and more college students are dealing with depression and anxiety.

Editor’s Note: This story and “Student’s mental health is a top priority at GRCC” are connected. A link to the other story will be provided at the bottom of this page.

It’s 8 p.m. on a Monday. I don’t remember the exact date, but I know for sure it was a Monday. I’m upstairs in my room doing homework. At least that’s what my family thought.

I was actually falling into my nightly hole.

A couple hours later, tears were flowing in waves. I don’t have any particular reason why, I just felt so lonely and helpless. I felt like I had no one to talk to, no one who could help me. These feelings carried into the next day. I felt like there was no hope. Thankfully, this was rock bottom.

So far, 2019 has been the worst year of my life. I’ve had feelings of depression since the beginning of January, when I had a relationship end before things ever got off the ground. I’ve had these feelings on and off ever since. By the end of February, I was sick of it and decided to get help.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to seek help after two months of feeling like they were down in a rut? Well, for a while I didn’t. I was very hesitant to seek help at first. I didn’t even know where to start, and I didn’t want my parents to find out and start to worry. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in that regard.

When I got help, I ended up seeing Stacey Heisler, the interim program director for Grand Rapids Community College’s Counseling & Career Development as well as a professional counselor.

In regards to when students should seek help, Heisler says that usually at some point students come to a realization that something needs to change.

“They’re seeking a higher quality of life…deeper relationships, whatever is keeping them from finding success,” Heisler said. “They know they’ve got a barrier in their way. They know that with some help and direction, they can learn some new strategies for coping.”

While many people struggle with sadness and depression, some experience this on a deeper level. For those having suicidal thoughts, Heisler suggests that students should seek help immediately.

“If a student or any individual is having thoughts of taking their own life in order to make it through whatever is hurting them so deeply, there are other alternatives for sure,” Heisler said. “That’s the time to get help.”

Heisler listed a number of reasons as to why students wait so long to seek help when feeling depressed.

“I think it’s hard to reach out sometimes,” she said. “There’s a stigma around mental health. I think we think about mental health as ‘well I’m just feeling blue’ or ‘I’m just feeling down’ but it’s not an issue of mental health. I have a saying that I often think back upon: Pain in life is unavoidable. Life is hard, life is messy. It’s complicated, it’s complex, all of those things. We’re gonna meet a lot of hurts and disappointments and even trauma in our lives. But suffering is optional.”

“We don’t hold back if there’s a medical ailment that needs treatment,” Heisler continued. “If you are insulin dependent, you are going to go get your medication. If you break your arm, you’re going to have to seek treatment in order to reset that properly and let it heal. But I don’t think we always look at mental health through the same lens.”

Heisler believes that the stigma around mental health also plays a role in why some students don’t even tell their parents about how they’re feeling.

“It’s that whole belief that ‘Our family can manage these issues on our own,’ or ‘We don’t need help outside of the family,’” Heisler said. “It could even be culturally bound, it could be traditions, religious, maybe even part of a community belief system. It also could just be fear of upsetting the family or drawing too much attention to one’s self, fear of rejection possibly. And unfortunately there are some situations where the relationship with the parents is the source of the grief. So not being able to have that conversation could be for a lot of reasons.”

The National Institute of Mental Health is a great resource for educating oneself about depression. According to the NIMH, the causes of depression are the result of a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. It can occur along with other serious illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. Depression can make these conditions worse and vice versa. Sometimes, medications taken for these illnesses may cause side effects that contribute to depression symptoms.

The NIMH says the signs and symptoms of depression vary in every person. Different people will have different symptoms, but some typical symptoms include a persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, and difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping. All of these symptoms are symptoms that I’ve had.

One thing I believe is very important that the NIMH mentions is that depression does not look the same in everyone. It affects everyone in different ways. For example, women tend to have depression more often than men. Biological, life cycle and hormonal factors that are unique to women may be linked to their higher depression rate. Women with depression typically have symptoms of sadness, worthlessness and guilt. Men with depression are more likely to be very tired, irritable and sometimes angry. They may lose interest in work or activities they once enjoyed, have sleep problems, and behave recklessly, including the misuse of drugs or alcohol. Many men do not recognize their depression and fail to seek help.

There is so much more information available at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml#pub7. Even if you don’t have depression or you don’t know anybody who’s depressed, this is still very helpful information to know. If you or someone you know has gotten to the point where they feel like they can’t go on, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. People are there for you. You don’t have to fight this alone.

As for me, I still struggle from time to time. I knew it wasn’t going to magically go away after I sought help. But since I got help, I’ve noticed I’ve felt better overall. Instead of thinking that things will never get better, I’ve started looking for opportunities to make myself happy. Even if it’s something as simple as getting a good grade on a test. And I know that when my time here at GRCC ends, I’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that I’ll be a college graduate. So I encourage you to get help when you need it. It may be tough, but you’ll feel better because of it.

Read The Collegiate’s related mental health coverage here.