An Open Letter to the UMaine Community Regarding Mental Health: A Student's Perspective

The experiences and views expressed in this article are solely those of the author. These experiences and views do not necessarily represent those of Her Campus Media, Her Campus UMaine staff, any contributors to this site, or the University of Maine.

 

College was something I had been looking forward to for as long as I can remember. I knew it would be where I made lifelong friends and pursue a career path of my choice. It would be where I found my first love, would explore new places, and become the best version of myself I could be. I have always held myself to high standards in my academics and in every other aspect of life so what happened to me during my first semester of college was not something I ever expected to happen.

 

Depression and anxiety became a part of my life in 7th grade, but to everyone around me I was the loud girl who was always laughing and smiling and making jokes. It was pretty manageable until my junior and senior year of high school. Senior year I started taking antidepressants and attending therapy regularly. At first I thought they were helping but then I realized how emotionally numb I felt and how I didn’t even feel like myself. I eventually decided to stop taking them thinking I would be fine without them, but I definitely wasn’t.

 

Throughout high school I took honors and AP classes, participated in many clubs, was in the band and show choir, a three sport athlete, a class officer, and danced competitively. I never let my mental health get in the way of any of this, and I didn’t think it would get in the way of my success in college either. I was excited to start the next chapter life.

 

Before I knew it I was starting classes, dancing, rushing a sorority, and basically jumping at every opportunity I had to get involved. I was having a harder time adjusting than I thought I would. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people I was meeting, I felt anxious all the time, and incredibly lonely, especially in a crowd. I started hurting myself and isolating myself from everyone.

 

One night I couldn’t handle all the emotions I was feeling. I was overwhelmed, sad, frustrated, anxious, lonely, and felt like I would never be okay. I was sitting in the parking lot with the bottle of antidepressants I used to take and swallowed a handful of pills. After a while I started panicking and tried to make myself throw up but I couldn’t. I ended up spending the night in the Emergency Room where I was watched overnight by doctors and finally let go the next day.

 

When I returned to school I had a meeting with a staff member at UMaine. They asked to see my discharge papers/plan and we agreed that I would go to the follow up appointments that were given to me and that if I needed anything I would let them know.

 

A couple weeks later around 11pm, two friends brought me to the emergency room again due to my extreme anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I still hadn’t had one of my follow up appointments that was given to me from my first visit to the ER because of how late they were scheduled for. So after spending the night in the Emergency room again, I was told that I was going to be taken to Acadia Mental Hospital to be observed for 72 hours and to undergo treatment.  

The day after being released I found myself in a meeting with the same staff member who I had previously talked to, except this time I was being asked to pack up my things and go home. I explained how I was finally getting help and finally feeling comfortable at school, finding my true friends, and being open with my family about everything. No matter what I said, I was told I was not strong enough to be here. My mom and I begged and begged for them to let me stay. I felt that I was being kicked out of school for getting help.

 

I remember saying “please don’t do this” and “I can’t believe this is happening.” What I had been going through was referred to as “psychotic episodes,” but a psychotic episode and being depressed are two very different things. I was feeling hopeless, and like the staff I was dealing with weren’t educated enough to help me. They were finally convinced to let me stay on campus one more night.

 

I started saying my goodbyes and gathering my stuff when I saw I had a voicemail from the UMaine staff I had been working with. The voicemail said that “we are willing to give you one more chance under certain conditions which will be discussed tomorrow at 3.” After hearing that voicemail I had no idea what to feel. I was happy I could stay, but also worried and had no idea what to expect for “conditions.”

 

The next day I walked in their office at 3 and the first thing they say to me is that their mind has not changed and that they still suggested that I withdraw from the university, saying again how I was not strong enough to be there. The staff member then read me the conditions I would have to follow to stay enrolled at the university, which to me seemed like a list of punishments instead of  help. I was given very specific times I was allowed to be on campus regarding school breaks, had to adjust my class schedule, was not allowed to miss any classes, and could only contact specific people about the way I was feeling.

 

After these meetings I felt defeated. I know that if I had been receiving treatment for any physical illness, the meetings I would have had, would have been about emailing my professors to excuse my absences, and how I could get caught up in my classes, instead it felt like I was being punished for getting help. I was finally on a medication that seemed to be working and attending therapy weekly, but I was now being watched like a bug under a microscope. I felt like I was being set up for failure with these conditions. I once again distanced myself from the people who cared because I was told I was no longer allowed to talk to students about my mental health and I didn’t want to risk being sent home. I felt so embarrassed and lonely. It took me a very long time to realize that none of this was my fault and that I was strong enough.

 

I think the scariest thing about my depression was that it took over my life before I even had time to realize it. Now looking back I see all the time I spent in my bed, how hard it was for me to get out of bed, how draining it was to hangout in groups of people, and how I lost a significant amount of weight because I never had an appetite for anything. I look back and see how I cried myself to sleep every night. I look back and see how I hurt myself, or at least thought about it every day. I see how I lost pleasure in dance, one of the things I love most. I see how I distanced myself from the people who meant most to me. I see how my mental illness took over my life one day at a time without me realizing. I hit a very low point, very fast.

 

It is now halfway through my second semester in college, and despite the amount of times I’ve been told I couldn’t succeed, I am doing everything I can to prove otherwise. I am thankfully doing better, but I won’t act like what happened to me didn’t affect me. I still feel sad when I think about the meetings. I still feel hurt by the way I was treated. But more than anything I feel angry. I feel angry that this was allowed to happen to me, and even more angry that this probably isn’t the first time this has happened to a student. I’m angry that the stigma towards mental health is still so dominant. I’m angry that instead of being supported by the administration I was treated like a liability, although all of my doctors advised and supported me staying in school.

 

Every student should feel safe enough to get help for their mental health along with their physical health, without having to worry about getting asked to leave their education. Colleges and universities need to support their students. It’s 2018, mental illness is real, and we need to talk about it.

 

*this article has been republished for Suicide Prevention Month*

 

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