Students Talk About Anxiety and Depression
Fear. Emptiness. Hopelessness. The inability to remember ever being happy. A gnawing feeling that nothing is right and it never will be again. For some, this may be an unimaginable existence, but for many, it’s a daily reality. These are some of the emotions and thoughts of those suffering from depression and anxiety.
For junior photography student Brandon Halley, this experience is limiting.
“[Depression] is crippling. And the anxiety just ruins your life,” Halley says. “You want to be normal on the outside, but you have this tornado under your skin and it’s just constantly scratching at you.”
A survey done last year by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 41.6 percent of college students struggle with anxiety and 36.4 percent struggle with depression. People with these conditions aren’t just feeling nervous about an upcoming test or sad because of a bad day.
These emotions can impair daily functioning and cause long-term effects and other disorders.
“It’s not as simple as people think,” junior psychology major Haley Boxdorfer says. “Sometimes if you talk to someone who has no clue about mental illness, they’ll be like ‘Oh, you’re sad, just cheer up!’”
Halley believes sharing his story can help those currently struggling who don’t know how to get help and educate others who don’t understand mental illnesses.
“People are more likely to help you find your car keys than battle depression, and that’s not okay,” Halley says. “The more people talk about it, the more it won’t become a taboo subject.”
Experiencing Mental Illness
For sophomore MacLain Naumann, anxiety didn’t start until his junior year of high school. His nerves caused him to stop sleeping, which began to affect his schoolwork.
“Some teachers started asking me why I was behind,” he says. “My demeanor also changed a little. I became more irritable. It’s kind of cyclical, so the less sleep I got because of my anxiety, the more anxious I was for the rest of the day.”
Despite this, Naumann believed he didn’t need help because he didn’t understand his anxiety — he thought he just wasn’t sleeping. This continued until his insomnia got much more severe.
“I went about five days without sleep,” Naumann says. “I was hallucinating, but the worst thing was that I had this feeling of disreality. I felt like either I wasn’t a real person, or other people weren’t real, other things weren’t real. It’s kind of like an out-of-body experience where you can’t really connect to anyone or anything.”
Though he’s dealt with symptoms his entire life, Halley was also diagnosed with severe anxiety in high school.
“I remember being a child and being so afraid of everyday things like being outside and playing with my friends,” he says.
Depression came with the anxiety, and soon became dangerous. In his junior year of high school, he began to self-harm.
Halley attributes some of his mental illness to his struggle with dependency. He began to recover after working on rediscovering his self-worth.
Boxdorfer similarly struggled in high school. She began to experience anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder her freshman year, cycling between highs and lows before settling into a deep depression her senior year.
“I began having suicidal thoughts. For a couple of years, I would take the ends of a pencil and scratch myself. And then I got to a really low point, and I would threaten suicide constantly,” she says.
Though she had a support system from family and most friends, not everyone was as empathetic. Some friends would accuse her of threatening suicide for attention.
“People think suicide is selfish. What people don’t realize is, when you’re suicidal, the only reason you try to live is for other people,” Boxdorfer says.
After high school, Boxdorfer says she began focusing on the supportive people in her life, which helped her begin to deal with her depression.
Managing and Recovering
For Naumann, Halley and Boxdorfer, their disorders are under control. Whether it’s through medication, therapy
or another healthy coping skill, their depression and anxiety is manageable. This isn’t always the case.
“It’s very important that everyone pay attention to their mental health. You have to notice the symptoms when it comes to emotional and psychological health. And then respond,” Director of Student Counseling and Life Development Patrick Stack says.
When faced with possible mental disorder, there are many options Webster students have for getting the help they need. Stack encourages students concerned about their mental health to take advantage of an online assessment. The Mental Health Screening is available at any Webster campus through the student counseling website.
The Counseling and Life Development Center offers confidential counseling sessions to all current Webster students, faculty and staff. Even those not at the home campus can reach out to Stack and he can connect them to someone at their location.
Stack says depression, anxiety and other disorders take time and commitment to overcome.
“I say to people that [therapy] does more if you allow it to work,” Stack says. “I can’t make someone well. I can give them the skills, I can cheer them on, I can coach them. But I can’t make them well, they have to make themselves well.”
Outside of therapy, other coping mechanisms can be helpful for managing the symptoms. Naumann finds comfort in reading non-fiction books and watching movies that relate to his anxiety. Halley journals his feelings, giving him the chance to release intense emotions. Boxdorfer makes sure she talks to friends when she’s feeling down.
Anxiety and depression can be debilitating at times. It can become dangerous or physically harmful if these disorders are not confronted and treated. The journey to recovery is long and full of obstacles, but is achievable.
“It gets easier,” Halley says. “You’re definitely going to have rough days and you’re definitely going to relapse, and it’s okay. It will get better eventually.”
Story by Katie Blackstone
Photos by Jeannie Liautaud