Peer Health Educators X IfYoureReadingThis.org
If you’re reading this, be patient with yourself.
Mental health can be tricky to navigate — I know it certainly has been for me. Everyone has different experiences with it, and mine is one of many. Personally, I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a long time. Growing up, I was always shy and socially anxious, and this only increased as I got older. Eventually, my day-to-day anxiety became increasingly hard to keep in check. The winter of my sophomore year of high school, I also began to struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, and it hit me pretty hard. I became withdrawn and irritable and had no desire to go through my daily routine. In these early stages I was lucky, because once winter faded into spring and the sun came back out regularly, the depression started to melt away and I felt like I was back to my usual self again.
Unfortunately, this pattern changed my junior year when I was in a toxic relationship that caused me to isolate myself from many of my friends. The harmful effects of this emotional abuse, coupled with SAD symptoms in fall and winter months, sent me into a deep depression. I felt lonely and worthless and suicidal at times. My parents recognized my change in behavior and encouraged me to go talk to someone. I am very grateful for them and their support, because I am not sure if I would have been able to seek out help on my own at that time.
That spring, I ended that relationship and began seeing a therapist. She was very helpful in giving me strategies to cope with my anxiety and depression, which helped me feel more in control and stronger emotionally. I didn’t instantly feel better after that, but I continued to see her intermittently throughout my senior year. I was still very much depressed and anxious, but it was more episodic. Once I moved away to college, however, I could no longer see her, and thus needed to find a new system of support. I tried CAPS, but it was not the best fit for me, so I gave up after that. Luckily, after a tough adjustment period for the first month of college, I really enjoyed the rest of my first year and felt pretty well-adjusted mentally.
Second year involved big changes in friend groups and living situations, and I found it easy to isolate myself once again. I recognized that I was unhappy, but I didn’t know what to do about it. That winter I went to see a private practice therapist in Charlottesville, but immediately realized that her methods were not the right style for me and she could not help me in the ways that I needed, so after a few sessions we parted ways. I was left feeling frustrated and afraid and knowing that I still needed help. However, I did not have the energy or willingness to seek out someone new once again, so I just waited out the rest of second year and counted down the days until I could return home for the summer.
This past summer I really focused on myself and finding a treatment plan that works for me. Though I had been opposed to the idea of going on medication for my anxiety or depression for a long time, I finally opened myself up to the idea after realizing it wouldn’t hurt to try, and I didn’t have much to lose. I saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed an antidepressant, which I now take every day. I was skeptical it would help me, but it has made all the difference in the world. I still have days where I feel down, but they are few and far between, and the rest of the time I feel truly happy with myself and where I’m at in life. I now also see a new therapist in Charlottesville every week, and she provides support and helps me resolve any conflict in my life.
Something I want to stress about my experience is that it comes from a place of privilege. I am lucky that my family recognizes my mental illness as real and debilitating, and is so supportive of me pursuing treatment. I realize that some people come from cultures, religions, and backgrounds where mental illness is highly stigmatized, so I know for some people it is not as easy to seek treatment as it is for others. That being said, do make use of the resources that are accessible to you.
The main takeaway that I want to get across is that one form of treatment might not work, and it can be incredibly discouraging, but know that there are other options and you’re not out of luck. It takes courage to continue to push through obstacles in your path, especially if you’re doing it alone, but the possible benefits make it all worth it.
I am passionate about mental wellbeing, especially in the college environment, and that is one reason I decided to join Peer Health Educators (PHEs). If you are ever looking for resources, please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or another PHE!
Amelia W., University of Virginia ‘20
This post is a part of a collaboration installment between IfYoureReadingThis.org and Peer Health Educators.
Our two organizations share the joint mission of creating a happier and healthier student body, and we encourage you to explore their resources and programs.
Peer Health Educators (PHEs) are a group of roughly 45 UVA students who are trained to educate their classmates about college health and wellness issues in a positive, interactive, fun, and nonjudgmental manner. Comprehensive training through a three-credit course prepares the PHEs to provide confidential patient education sessions; facilitate dynamic outreach programs; encourage physical, mental, and spiritual health; create informative awareness events; and promote community support to create a healthy culture. PHEs are trained to educate on mental wellness, nutrition, alcohol safety, and sexual health.
If you would like to request an outreach from the PHEs, go to tinyurl.com/requestanoutreach and fill out the form. If you would like to talk to a PHE in a one-on-one patient education session about any and all of the above-listed topics, either book a patient education online through healthyhoos.com or walk to the lower level of Student Health.
If you would like to learn more about the PHE program or would like to apply to become one, go to our tab in the student health website under “health and wellness” > “peer education”.