To many, college is described as the best time of your life. The freedom. The parties. The friends. And let’s not forget the abundance of knowledge that one obtains. The college experience helps mold who you are as a person because it is a time to learn.
I learned that despite expectations from others, I would have to discover my own likes and dislikes to plan my future accordingly.
I learned that some of my aspirations and expectations just weren’t meant to be.
I learned that failing a class does not mean that I am dumb and it is not the end of the world.
I learned how stress affects my body in both good ways and bad.
A significant item I learned during my sophomore year was that my inability to sleep and the voices that I would hear as I sat in my dorm room were symptoms of the mental health diagnosis known as Bipolar II disorder. This lesson was not easily learned—it came as a result of me being forced to the hospital by my family because they knew I wasn’t the Shaun that they were used to.
Learning, acknowledging, and accepting this fact about myself was not an easy task. I had heard the term ‘bipolar’ before, as people including myself would use it loosely to describe the weather or a person with mood swings, but I did not know about the actual illness. It was also a term that I had associated with “crazy.”
But now that I had an actual diagnosis, I did not want others to know or label me as crazy. I had to constantly remind myself that “Nothing is wrong with me.”
The stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness in the black community is a proven silent killer. While rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide to continue to rise, individuals continue to suffer in silence.
This stigma doesn’t stop at the threshold of the college campus, as many students are not mentally healthy and do not know how to address their issues accordingly. According to a 2013 report by Institute of Education Sciences, there are over 300,000 students in enrolled at HBCUs. And, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, reports indicate that 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year. Using some rough math, this means that approximately 60,000 students that attend a HBCU may suffer from a mental illness. And that’s not even accounting for the demographic variations, which indicate that Black males from ages 20 to 24 have the highest rates of suicide in the Black population, averaging 18.18 per 100,000.
Unfortunately, this number may even be significantly higher because some may choose not to acknowledge and tend to their mental health needs.
Similar to my college experience, many black students may not understand what they are experiencing mentally.
I knew that I was sad for a few days and I didn’t want to be bothered but I did not know that chronic sadness and withdrawal are symptoms of depression.
I knew that I had trouble paying attention in class and focusing on assignments but I did not know that professional help could assist me with learning how to improve this behavior.
I knew that it is common to drink alcohol or use drugs in college but I did not know that there could be an underlying issue contributing to abusing substances.
The black community, especially among college students, rarely addresses these issues as an illness that needs professional treatment. Ignorance, Fear, ego, and pride prevent us from acknowledging the problem, asking for help, and following through with treatment.
“This doesn’t happen to us”
“I’m not crazy”
“I don’t need any help, I can control this”
“Seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness”
On campuses, students utilize an array of resources including tutors, libraries, gyms, and other programs but fail to make use of counseling services.
I was that student. Before hospitalization, I didn’t even know where the Counseling and Wellness office was located. So of course I didn’t know the service was available. It is not a marketable as the student rec center or dining hall but it should in fact serve as a vital role to assist in a student’s success.
No, it is not a place for “crazy” people. It is a place to assist you in being as healthy as possible by treating a muscle that we often take for granted: our brain. This includes but is not limited to therapy, medication management, and psychological testing.
Each student on every HBCU campus must recognize the importance of this part of his or her life and utilize these resources. These barriers must be broken in order to help students thrive in an arena that is fun, exciting, but also very stressful. In most cases, portions of these services are covered by your tuition.
So ask yourself: Why not use them?
Rwenshaun Miller is a Mental Health Awareness Advocate, Founder of Eustress Inc., and Blogger at Monumental Monomental. In 2007, Rwenshaun was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Severe with Psychotic Features. As a Black male, he wants to help break the stigma surrounding mental illness and promote wellness for everyone.