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Speaking up about mental health is key

After the fourth shot of vodka, I screwed the cap onto the bottle, put it back in my desk's bottom drawer, hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders and left for my 11:30 class.

It was a Wednesday morning, and I was drunk -- it wasn't something I planned. It wasn't a way to keep the previous night's party going, or to make myself look cool by catching a buzz during class. It wasn't even something I enjoyed.

When I pulled myself out of bed that morning and reached for that bottle, I was drinking to cope. I needed something that could dull my brain, that could push away the thoughts that had been gradually seeping into my mind and tormenting me over the past year or so.

They made me feel worthless. They made me feel like a failure, like I had thrown away any potential I'd come to college with, and like my recent failures excluded me from any sort of success down the road. They put me in a constant state of panic, always worried that a catastrophe was lurking just around the corner.

They invaded my mind and destroyed me from the inside out, making me feel empty, like I'd lost any sense of the person I was once proud to be. I lost all enjoyment in the things that once made me feel alive. I retreated from my friends, disengaged from my classes and often found myself lying in bed well into the afternoon and evening, the thought of facing another day unbearable.

Most of all, these thoughts made me feel alone, isolated. I wasn't sure exactly what I was experiencing, but whatever it was, I was convinced it was not normal. I was alone in this dark place, and the more I told myself that, the deeper I receded. Despite having a core group of close, understanding friends, as well as a loving and supporting family, I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone for fear that I'd be viewed as weak, that they might consider I was just being lazy and self-pitying.

But, as I sat in my 11:30 lecture hall, my head swimming from the liquor inside of me, I knew it was time to speak up -- before it was too late. I'd turned to substance use to cope with my mental state, and that realization forced me to confront the severity of my situation, to recognize that even if I might be judged, seeking help for my issues was better than the path I was headed down.

I started by telling my roommate and some of my closest friends. Eventually, I went to Student Counseling Services for an initial consultation, and later that day, I explained to my parents over the phone what I was going through. Today, through a combination of regular therapy and mental wellness activities, such as meditation, I'm learning to cope with my anxiety and depression in a healthy manner.

When I opened up to my peers about what I was going through, I found that not only were they helpful and supportive, but many actually responded that they were going through similar struggles. The World Health Organization recently announced that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, but ironically, because it can be so isolating, people suffering often think that nobody else feels the same way.

To be sure, every individual's experience with mental illness is unique. However, there are similarities, and when one person speaks up about their struggles, it can help others to see that they're not as alone as they may feel. And no matter what you're dealing with, even if it's just stress, the first step to recovery is talking about it.

The fact of the matter is: SCS currently does not have the resources to accommodate every student on campus that requires its services. But that doesn't mean you can't speak up. There are always people you can talk to, whether that be a professional, a professor or even a close friend. So even if you're feeling overwhelmingly alone, even if you feel that there's no way out of the darkness, please don't be afraid to reach out.