*All views expressed in the opinion section are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Salemite.
Quite frankly, it’s not great. I’ve been struggling with my mental illness for nearly a decade now and I’ve been through highs and lows my entire life. I’m hesitant to say that my entire time at Salem has been one single “low” but it certainly has not helped my mental health by any stretch of the imagination. As many of you know, 97% of Salem students reported feeling overwhelmed, 93% reported being emotionally exhausted, 68% reported feeling overwhelming anxiety and 42% reported feeling that it was difficult to function due to depression according to a ACHA report sent out by the counseling center last year. I’m hardly alone in feeling like the college isn’t exactly a safe haven for those who are struggling with mental illness.
Salem College is an institution, first and foremost – productivity and image are always going to be things that matter to the institution. Having mentally ill students that are vocal about their illnesses is something of a PR nightmare. It reflects poorly on the college that so many students are unhappy – even more so when it’s not something that can be swept under the rug. Try as I might have in the past, my mental illness cannot and will not be swept under any rug. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s here to stay and it is not something that can be ignored. However, that doesn’t stop people from trying.
My mental illness has often manifested as very intense phobias – often surrounding bugs and germs. For those of you who have never experienced a phobia, think of it as the thing you fear, most amplified. When my dorm became infested with bed bugs, it was like a waking nightmare. I emailed and called administration and while most of my concerns were aided, there was a very thinly veiled tension during the conversations. There were frustrations surrounding my irrationality about the bugs. Though it was never outright said, I got the sense that it would be highly preferable for me to simply get over the issue. Other people were dealing with it; why couldn’t I?
I’m so glad you asked, imaginary other half of this conversation! Because I suffer from a mental illness that can make rational thought incredibly difficult, especially when it comes to the phobias that invade my mind. Do I know I’m being irrational? Of course, I do. Can I do anything about these irrational thoughts and behaviors? Of course not. But why does this matter? Why should you, the reader, care about my well being?
Because I’m not alone. As I mentioned before, a lot of people at Salem feel overwhelmed and depressed and it is a really awful feeling. And Salem isn’t built to handle it. It’s not setup to deal with phobia ridden students or students who are dealing with severe depression. The counseling center isn’t up to the job of taking on these issues. Regardless of my personal opinion of the center, there simply are not enough resources to go around. Last year, there was a waiting list to simply be seen at the center – I can’t speak for this year as I see a therapist off campus and no longer turn to the counseling center for resources. That is genuinely upsetting that people who are reaching out for help and are not able to get it because there are not enough resources to go around. People start to feel like their problems aren’t important enough, like perhaps someone else is worse and needs the resources more than they do. And that’s not true. Everyone’s problems are valid and everyone deserve to have a sounding board to discuss them.
I was very lucky last year to receive help that I needed from a qualified therapist, but not everyone is as lucky in that regard. There are plenty of students in this school who need help and are not receiving it. I’d like to speak to them directly at this time; siblings, you are not alone. I know this sounds cheesy but there is a reason this is such a cliché. As much as we hate to talk about this, everyone goes through it in some shape or form. You are important, you are worthy and you are loved. Your mental health and self-care are incredibly important and there is absolutely no shame in taking care of that first. Don’t be ashamed about this. Talk about it, either with friends or with a professional.
My therapist and family all use the same analogy – you wouldn’t be ashamed to talk about having diabetes, would you? There is nothing wrong with you, but everyone could use some help now and again. The counseling center is hardly a perfect resource, but I recommend reaching out to someone if you can. I know that a lot of churches and places of worship have free counseling resources if you are open to utilizing a religious resource. I can personally attest to the Mood Treatment Center; it’s a very good center if you need both counseling, medication or both.
Let me reiterate, there is no shame in asking for help. If you are not doing well, one of the best options you can take is reaching out. You’ve made it this far, you can keep going. If you don’t get anything else from this article, know that you are important.
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Line (Texting): 741-741