How We Talk About Mental Health

A couple of weeks ago I attended a de-stress event called “Omg, I’m SO depressed”. At first the title sounded somewhat ignorant and unnecessary. However I later learned that it was done on purpose; the event was about bringing awareness to how we talk about mental health, especially in college.

According to some statistics presented at the event, 80% of college students feel overwhelmed, 45% of students have dropped out of college because of their mental illness, and 75% do not end up seeking help. Those are big numbers. 75% of students don’t seek help. This has a lot to do with the harsh stigma centered around mental illness. Stigma creates a feeling of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) also states that “the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well”. I believe that schools need to improve at offering mental health support and creating an environment in which students feel accepted enough to seek the help they need.

Mental illness in college can include anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, depression and suicide among many others. It’s important to understand that there are many people around us who could be struggling with one or more of these illnesses every day. Unfortunately, some of the terms associated with these illnesses have become so normalized. At least once a day I hear someone say “I feel so dead today," or “ugh I hate myself," or “this is depressing let’s go get food,” and countless more along the same lines. It might seem harmless, but someone right next to you might actually suffer from depression and have these thoughts all the time, in a much more real way. It’s important to be aware of these phrases we use so lightly because they could have a negative effect on someone without you realizing it. For some people, their mental illness impairs them from functioning normally day to day. What one might see as a simple and effortless task, such as getting out of bed in the morning, could seem like a giant and tiring effort to someone else.

The language we use, especially as college students, can really make an impact. Instead of saying “this class is so hard I just feel like dying," we could make an effort to say “this class is so hard, I feel really stressed." This is a more neutral phrase a college student who isn’t suffering from a mental illness would say. Most of us feel various levels of stress throughout the week, and that’s completely normal.

Image via BodyMind Institute 

Aside from the language we use, it’s also really important to encourage those around us to communicate openly and without shame. We should make an effort to break the stigma around talking about mental health and allow people to share their experiences and feel heard (if they feel ready to do so). Someone struggling with a mental illness may not know where to start in seeking help, and they may feel incredibly alone. If you notice a friend or another student feeling down or not acting like themselves, UCSB’s Distressed Students Guide has helpful information for approaching and helping someone you believe may be suffering from a mental illness. If someone decides to share what they’re going through with you, listen to them and offer support. Be sure to make them aware of the resources UCSB has to offer, such as CAPS and Student Health.

About 1 in every 3 students suffer from a mental illness, so keep that in mind when you’re going about your day. It could be someone close to you, or even a roommate. I urge you to become more aware of the phrases and words you use to describe how you’re feeling, because you never know what effect those words could have on someone. Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone and everyone for all sorts of reasons. It’s crucial as college students who are still navigating through this world of technology and social media that we don’t forget to communicate with others and practice empathy. It could make all the difference. 

Image via See Me