If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you would know that it’s not fun. Ever. Panic attacks come in different forms for different things. Personally, my panic attacks range from experiencing what I call a “perpetual brain fog” that causes me to forget a lot of things that are said to me, to having a full “meltdown-esque” panic attack where I start hyperventilating and crying. It differs for all of us who live every day with anxiety.
In SA, we often find the need to bury personal mental health concerns because there has been the consistent belief that by having anxiety or depression, we are weak and cannot help others. The same goes with introversion and extroversion. I wish I had a dollar for the number of times that someone has said that “[I] don’t act like an introvert.” Just because I recharge by being alone does not mean that I am not the energetic, charismatic, and quirky leader my students need. It does not mean that I’m a socially awkward recluse – the unfortunate perception of introverts throughout the years.
Why is it that these perceptions exist? Don’t get me wrong, the negative stigma around mental health has been slowly decreasing throughout the years. But there is still awkwardness that comes from a conversation about mental health. Why can’t we talk about anxiety and depression like we talk about a diabetes or celiac disease? They are all things that affect our overall health and well-being. They do not define us, but surely they are a part of who we are.
It is frustrating when people try to tiptoe around those of us with depression and anxiety. Yes, we need support as coworkers, relatives, partners, and humans in general. But we don’t need to be coddled. For many of us, we know what our support looks like. We will ask for it when we need it. I say that I need to get off-campus or leave the room when I am having a panic attack and many people respect that. That doesn’t mean that I need to walk away every single time that a conflict or stressful situation arises.
At this point, you may be asking what I’m getting at with this post. I simply ask you to reflect on how you can be open about anxiety and depression in student affairs or conversations in general. Maybe that means something simple, like having a program or doing a mental health bulletin board. I have personally disclosed my depression and anxiety with a few students who have disclosed it to me. The point of the conversation was not to undermine their concern or to talk about myself. It was simply a gesture of solidarity. I let them know that mental health is something we can talk about here. In other words, their condition is not something to be embarrassed of because a lot of us struggle with it. It was an opportunity to give them a safe space.
I also ask you to reflect on how you can support your partners, coworkers, and family members who struggle with depression and anxiety. Simply ask them how they want to be supported. Don’t coddle them or assume that you need to text them every five minutes to see if they’re okay. Many of us have it under control. We simply need a supportive listener or someone to check in when we walk away because of a panic attack.
Overall, we need to work together to reduce the negative stigma that still exists around mental health. We need to stop judging others for their conditions. We are all human beings who deserve the same respect despite the different battles we are all going through.
Originally published at A Year in the Life: Confessions of a Hall Director.
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