For students with mental illness, college may be difficult. That doesn’t mean it should be impossible.
To achieve something great in any field, it takes focus and consistent hard work—and it is here that mental illness is detrimental. You may have the potential to accomplish your dreams, but your illness gets in your way. Sometimes, it is also difficult for your family and friends to “handle” it. This only makes the illness harder to deal with.
If you are someone facing this challenge, do not lose hope. Painter Vincent Van Gogh himself was epileptic and had bipolar disorder. Authors Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath were each diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, respectively. Even scientist Issac Newton had bipolar disorder, and mathematician John Nash Jr. was schizophrenic. Having a mental illness does not stop you from creating beautiful works and achieving great things, regardless of your area of interest. Mental illnesses don’t discriminate, and neither should anybody else.
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), 50% of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24. This means that high school and college-aged students are the most susceptible to mental illness. The problem can be exacerbated by college, especially after harsh changes to a student’s lifestyle. Such changes include moving away from home and friends, living in a cramped environment, and even the stress of school itself.
This raises an important question: is college really an option for students with mental illness?
The answer, in short, is yes—but it won’t be easy.
To the people who worry about it, maybe my story will help. I have Major Depressive and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and began college when my illness was at its peak. It was hard to stay focused in class without getting distracted; it was difficult to find motivation to do simple things, such as eating food, staying hydrated, and sleeping. But just because doing things was difficult, I did not give up. To get past this mountain, I learned to reach out to those who were supportive instead of keeping to myself and struggling with my issues alone. I also transferred my medicines from my home pharmacy to Student Health, which is very efficient when it comes to refills. I continue seeing my home therapist, but when urgent therapy is needed, CAPS is always available.
If a student with a mental illness wants to go to college, nothing should stop them. If it means getting the assistance they need through programs such as UCSB DSP (Disabled Students Program), then so be it, but if a student is motivated enough to want further education, they should get it. Just because a mental illness does not manifest itself in the same way as a physical disability, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get help.
DSP accommodates temporarily and permanently disabled students, as long as the student has a certificate granted by their clinician proving that the mental illness is valid. For students with concentration problems, DSP offers outside proctoring in case students cannot deal with the noisy and crowded atmosphere of a regular testing room. They also offer extra time on testing for mentally ill students to whom time limits are an Achilles heel.
There are many resources out there for mentally ill students—they just need to find them. Apps are available in the Android and Apple Stores, such as Operation Reach Out, which is reported to help in suicidal crises, and Optimism, which helps you track your moods, keep a journal, and chart your recovery progress. Others such as Mango Health help track your medicines and list interactions between them that you or your mental health clinician may not be aware of.
So to all my mentally ill students out there: dare to dream of a higher education. Don’t let your mental illness stop you from achieving your potential.