I Tried to Start a Club, and Failed

Before college, I’d never experienced anxiety, let alone had a chronic issue with it. In fact, in high school I had doubts about the severity of anxiety; I thought kids my age were simply complaining during finals week, and just needed to tough it out rather than medicate. And then the summer after my first year at Denison, I went to the hospital with chest pains, breathing problems, dizziness, and nausea. They gave me pure oxygen, took some x-rays, tested my blood, and sent me home.

I was advised to see a psychiatrist, and have been on Zoloft (an SSRI commonly prescribed for depression, panic attacks, and anxiety) ever since. For over a year now, my doctors have fiddled with my dose, and I’ve been in and out of counseling on campus. But that wasn’t enough—I continued to have attacks, developed other side-effects like globus hystericus, and didn’t have the time to meet with my counselor as often as I needed (and wanted) to.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve slowly discovered how many people in college are actually taking medication to treat a mental health condition. According to Chadron State College’s webpage on the National Alliance on Mental Illness: “One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year.” More specifically, about “11 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated for anxiety in the past year and more than 10 percent reported being diagnosed or treated for depression.” In my small friend-circle alone, four out of five of us take or have previously taken an SSRI. In many ways, learning that my peers have dealt with the same sleepless nights, the same inexplicable, out-of- nowhere pangs of anxiety, has helped me.

For the longest time, my parents tried to help me at arm’s length. It’s not that they weren’t concerned, it’s just that they were perplexed; I would be too if I’d never felt the pain before. When they asked, “Why are you nervous?”, I didn’t have an answer. Panic attacks woke me from the deepest sleep, on my best days. And then meds and therapy weren’t enough, so I began to rely on a twenty-pound bag of rice, which rested on my chest, to help me feel calm during the night. Everywhere I go, I keep paper lunch bags nearby, just in case I need to breathe into them to keep from passing out. Maybe that’s what I’ll continue to do, but I’d like to do more.

The people in your classes, the ones who go out every weekend and have a million friends, they may be dealing with manic depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or OCD. With so many of us dealing with similar mental health conditions, there’s no possible way the Health Center will be able to cater to all of us in a timely manner. As much as free counseling is a great resource, one I truly have benefited from on campus, I can’t hold out to meet for an hour every two weeks. I need more than that. And for those who do not want to speak to a counselor, perhaps because they don’t trust that person, because they don’t have the time, or can’t connect with him/her, I want to create a space for you.

In the spring of my sophomore year, I tried, and failed, to start a club for those of us dealing with a spectrum of mental health conditions. Sure, Active Minds does great work to reduce the stigma attached to mental health disorders, and Counseling Services meets with students, pro-bono, to talk, but I want to provide a different kind of resource. For people like me, who benefit from intimate, confidential conversations with friends who have been through similar experiences, a club that meets a few times a month, run by students, for students, would be invaluable. By no means would a club such as this cure people—it’s about comradery, and creating networks so that people can help each other without fear of judgment.

Having said all this, I have to say that starting a club is no easy feat, especially one such as this is, which inevitably comes with potential legal complications for the school. After building a Facebook page, a Twitter account, writing a constitution, and even obtaining two faculty sponsors, the club still was a tough sell to my school’s board of campus organizations. They worried that they’d be liable if, God forbid, something went awry. Who would be responsible? Would the school, would the club officers, or would the individual? I hadn’t considered this. If I were in charge, of course this would be a cause for concern, but I have to wonder what the consequences will be if we alienate those who suffer by not offering a resource for them such as this. There’s nothing quite like a community of people who have walked a mile in your shoes, who can offer advice and insight that a professional wouldn’t think to give, or can’t advocate for first-hand. And so, even though I felt disheartened when this brainchild was rejected, I couldn’t bring myself to delete the Facebook page. I still believe in this idea, and refuse to let the powers that be on my campus prevent something that could potentially help so many students, not reach fruition. If you or someone you love has a mental health condition, please visit Community of Peers for Mental Health, our Facebook page, and reach out to me. I’d love to reform some of the ideas I presented and see what sort of compromises can be reached so that I can make this club happen, even if it takes up until I graduate in 2019.

If all else fails, reach out anyway. Reach out to me, to your roommate, to a professor, to anyone. The numbers don’t lie: you’re not alone.