Mental Health in American Colleges
This week, we asked our intern Riley: Do you see people in your network/friendship group talking about their experiences? Is it more hidden? What is your personal experience like within your friend network in college?
This is what she had to say:
I knew going into college that my mental health was something that would affect me in new ways due to a huge change of environment, friends, classes, and just the overall adjustment of moving away from home. My mental health was not something I discussed with my friends in high school because I didn’t want to seem pessimistic and negative, but in college that was something I wanted to change. After being at University for a couple months, I slowly just brought my mental health into conversations in a casual, normal way. I quickly realized that most of the people around me also struggle with mental health issues or just maintaining a healthy state of mind in college.
Mental health has now become one of the most relatable parts of my friendships because everyone has mental health and it is something that a lot of people struggle with in college, whether it be stress and anxiety from a test, lack of sleep, depression, isolation, or something else. As I started to weave mental health into my everyday conversations with my friends and posting about it on social media, I got quite the response back from my friends and peers. Everyone started responding with such support and love, as well as sharing their stories and being vulnerable in return, which has led to many new friendships and the growth of old friendships.
Since my freshman year, I have joined multiple groups on campus that work to educate and equip students on how to deal with mental health issues in college. I have also now become the Director of Women’s Wellness, an all women’s organization that I am part of. This has given me the opportunity to bring mental health and other topics into the forefront of conversations, and it turns out that people really do want to talk and share about their experiences.
In college, it is really easy to feel very alone in your struggles because everyone puts on the facade in person and on social media that they are living their best lives and are thriving. It is easy to see those things and think that you are floundering or a failure because you are struggling. In my organization, we participated in a workshop put on by Stand Up For Your Sister, in which we got real statistics on what the women in our organization were struggling with. The statistics brought to light the different things women were struggling with, whether they be mental health problems, abuse, family issues, friendship problems, struggles in school, and more. This opened the conversation for people to realize that everyone around them is going through something and that many people who felt they were alone were sitting by someone going through the same thing.
I think I have learned that everyone wants to feel seen and heard by the people and friends around them because no one wants to feel alone. I think even doing simple things such as checking up on your friends, writing them a nice note, or grabbing an extra coffee for someone can go a long way. I would say that the conversation regarding mental health is growing on college campuses due to the vulnerability and passion that students have for mental health awareness. You don’t have to shout your story or struggles from the rooftops, but even just being vulnerable and honest with your friends about what you are going through will not only make you feel less alone, but them as well.
About the Author: Riley Gekiere
While here in Vienna, you can find Riley at some of her favorite coffee shops or cafes reading a book or hanging out with friends. Being in Vienna for only 8 weeks has taught her a lot about adjustment and the physical, mental and emotional toll that can take. The lessons that she learns and the ways she grows here in Vienna are something that she will be able to apply back in the United States (her home!) while she finishes her degree in Social Work. Riley uses her past experiences with mental and emotional health to relate, encourage and grow with other people.