Conversation is key with mental illness

Chances are, you know somebody who struggles with anxiety or depression. While the signs aren’t always obvious, knowledge of certain symptoms and risk factors might just save a life.

Recognizing that a problem exists is the first step to getting help, and the university offers professional counseling services to help students do just that.

“We are a full-service counseling center that helps students free of charge for any counseling or emotional needs that they have,” Director of Counseling, Testing and Health Services Nate Williams said.

Through the counseling center’s website, cths.umhb.edu, students can take a free and confidential mental health screening. The website also allows students to sign up for one-on-one counseling.

Sophomore marketing major Rebekah Brown has struggled with depression for much of her life. She said there are several symptoms that may be a cause for concern.

“The beginning symptoms of depression may include change in weight and a change in sleeping and eating patterns,” Brown said. “Irritability and mood swings may also occur. You may have feelings of hopelessness, unworthiness, or self-loathing. What’s really unfortunate is that most college students experience all of these things, so it may be difficult to distinguish a bad day from a developing mental illness.”

While it may be difficult to discern between a normal, hectic life and an underlying problem, Williams said one sign of mental illness is when overall quality of life suffers.

“Stress is a sign of life. So in some ways, we look at stress as a good thing to a point,” he said. “What it really comes down to is, you have to ask yourself, ‘How is this affecting me?’ Maybe it’s something like test anxiety and that anxiety is affecting my performance in academics.”

Once someone realizes they have a problem, the next step is to get help, and the best way to do so is by talking with a professional.

“There is an unnecessary stigma against medication and therapy that should not exist. Just like you go to the doctor when your body is sick, you need to do whatever possible to keep your mind healthy as well,” Brown said.

One of the best resources for someone dealing with a mental illness is to have someone to go to. However, it can be a difficult conversation to start. Williams said that if someone notices a friend or loved one showing signs of depression, it’s important to take action.

The key thing in helping someone is to not avoid it,” he said. “Sometimes it can be uncomfortable because we don’t know what to say, and the real truth is, sometimes we don’t need to say anything much. Sometimes we just need to break the ice and just listen to the person.”

Brown said that one of the best things you can do for someone struggling with depression is just make yourself available.

“Personally, one of the hardest parts of depression is talking about it. Approach your affected loved one with patience and love, and avoid the air of confrontation,” she said. “Those of us affected by depression don’t want to feel like a burden, so be careful not to treat them like one. We won’t want to talk about it even if it would be the best thing in the world for us. But be ready to listen. Make us feel safe, loved and important.”

Unlike many physical illnesses, depression isn’t something that can be cured. While counseling can help people understand their symptoms, those suffering with depression will likely carry it with them throughout life.

“It’s really important to realize that in most cases, depression cannot be simply overcome. I know that for me, depression is most likely going to follow me around for the rest of my life,” Brown said.

That doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, however. Brown said that confronting the problem is the best way to find refuge.

“The best encouragement I can give is to share. Talk about it. Be honest and open, even if it leaves you vulnerable,” she said. “Growth and change can only come from a place of true vulnerability.”

Author: Cody Weems

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