Since 1949, May has been observed as National Mental Health Awareness Month. On college campuses this can mean perhaps an organized event geared towards distressing and going against stigmas, but is that enough? Are colleges treating all aspects of mental health appropriately? April’s Story reflects the true tale of one student’s struggles, triumphs, and wisdoms with collegiate mental health.
This is the story May forgets to tell. This is April’s Story.
April* has been dealing with mental illness her entire life.
April is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, bipolar type II, posttraumatic stress disorder, ADHD, anxiety. She is also most likely on the autism spectrum.
“I’ve been struggling with this stuff for as long as I can remember.” she said, “Throughout my life there’s been a lot of ‘just calm down, stop crying, this isn’t a big deal.’”
Now as an adult battling with mental illness, April believes that a greater societal problem is being reflected in colleges.
Upon starting college, April has found making friends and socializing a lot easier. She says she’s been lucky to make such strong individual relationships and has found the department of disabilities at her college to be helpful in accommodating her needs.
Despite things improving for April upon entering college, she doesn’t think enough help is available for students beginning to battle mental illness— experiences comparable to what she went through years ago when her symptoms first became apparent. In these instances, she can imagine students might require more help than her school can offer.
“I was throwing things across the room, yelling at my peers, and running out of the classroom in tears.” she said, “I don’t think you get a lot of support.”
April doesn’t believe her experience with on-campus counseling service was bad, but they didn’t know how to help her as she struggled with flashbacks and paranoia. She said she’s not sure if they’re even equipped to deal with symptoms that are “scary” to other people, even those of depression and anxiety. Another underlying issue, she said, is the lack of therapist walk in hours.
“Yes, let me perfectly schedule my mental health crisis,” she said, “I find it odd that there’s this culture that your mental illness can wait.”
April isn’t the only one to notice a pattern of neglect towards less normalized mental illnesses. In a recent article in The New Yorker headlined Mental Illness Is More Than Just Depression and Anxiety, the stigma towards psychosis is explored from the personal account of journalist Emily Ross.
“When “mental illness” enters the cultural conversation, it’s usually as a synonym for depression or anxiety.” Ross wrote, “The less palatable, more frightening facets of mental illness, like psychosis? They’re still ignored, often leading to those experiencing psychosis to remain silent.”
The added stigma surrounding disorders like psychosis in Ross’ case and borderline personality disorder in April’s could be due to a lack of commonality. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7 percent of American adults suffer from depression, but only 1.6 percent from BPD.
For April, mental health advocacy on campus seems doesn’t seem to be helping the problem. Upon getting involved with student organizations, she was even disappointed by how they treated mental health. She found that the group focused on mental disorders that aren’t ‘scary,’ like depression and anxiety, and didn’t touch upon symptoms that are “less fun to talk about” like hallucinations or psychosis.
“Coming from someone who struggles with mental disorders outside of [depression and anxiety], they want to be inclusive but they're not including people like me.” April said, “We have to focus on mental disorders that aren’t ‘relatable.’ No one wants to talk about that. There are so many narratives and we only focus on a few.”
April won’t hide her illnesses to make it easier for neurotypical people. She has done extensive research on the topic of invisible social rules. She was recently interviewed to do a TED Talk on the subject of what should not be expected of someone with mental illness.
Even so, April stresses the importance of individual responsibility to seek help.
“If you’re experiencing violent symptoms, it’s your responsibility to get help. Mentally ill or not, if you hurt someone, you still hurt someone.” April said, “We should have help available to prevent it from happening.”
Admitting that you have a problem and having the desire to seek help are the first steps, according to April. She recommends that people dealing with mental illness find a good therapist and stay committed to going to therapy. She stresses the importance of not being afraid to advocate for any disability accommodations one may need.
April doesn’t identify as a mental health advocate but she wants to be a person who starts the conversation and points out flaws where there are flaws.
“Mentally ill people are going to act mentally ill and that’s not a thing we can get around. It’s not reasonable to tell a person with schizophrenia not to hallucinate. It’s not reasonable to tell a histrionic disorder not to seek attention. I’m just someone who cares a lot and wants to speak up for people– for myself and for others because we don’t deserve to live in silence.”
*Name was changed to protect privacy
ABOUT ALLISON HAGAN
Growing up in New York City, Allison Hagan has always had a passion for creativity and knowledge, influenced by the hustle and bustle of the big city. As an undergraduate journalism student at Emerson College, she continues to fall in love with storytelling. In addition to reporting, she is passionate about self-expression and creativity, expressing her personality through her writing, her social media brand, and her hair.