Since 1949, the month of May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month — started by the organization Mental Health America. Coincidentally, it also happens to fall on the same month that most college students are taking their final exams for the academic year. Ever since we arrived at Missouri State University our freshman year, we were taught that our mental health is important and we should take it seriously, especially around the time that finals come around in December and May.
There is a well-known culture in college, however, that encourages students to put their mental health on the back burner in order to get good grades in their classes, even during the regular school year. A lot of college students pull all-nighters trying to cram in that last bit of information for the test or trying to finish that final research paper that is due at midnight. We spend hours upon hours trying to memorize tons of information and drink endless amounts of caffeine to stay awake while doing so. In addition, there are those dreaded group projects where at least one person flakes on their part so the others have to pick up the slack. This is a stressful time of the year for everyone, especially those who already struggle with mental illnesses.
But a lot of times, this is played off for laughs and many people who suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and a variety of others are not taken seriously because it may be perceived as having an excuse. As someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, it makes my life much harder, not easier.
From what I have seen, the topic also never seems to come up except when something bad happens or when finals are coming up. Do not get me wrong — it is important to emphasize good habits and to remind students to take care of their mental health during these times. But I think it should also be just as important to talk about our mental health throughout the school year, especially as college students.
In addition to talking about depression and anxiety, we should also be talking about those mental illnesses that still have a harmful stigma attached to them and are often left out of the conversation. Things like obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and even eating disorders are heavily stigmatized, especially those groups that face even further alienation.
Taking care of your mental health should be just as important as taking care of yourself when you have a physical illness. Just like when you have the flu and you drink plenty of fluids, you have to do the equivalent for your mental health. Walk away from your computer or phone for a few minutes and do something else to give your mind a break. Do not do tasks all at once if it is a huge task, such as a research paper or a project, break it up into manageable chunks.
Your mental health is extremely important. Remember to take care of yourself and just remember to take a few deep breaths every once in a while to remind yourself that you are alright.