Working in Student Affairs means dealing with students from a variety of backgrounds. My main focus the past few weeks, with my first pro-staff position starting soon, has been on students with a background of mental health challenges. I know with future training and counseling classes I will learn how to best help students, but it is about more than just being able to help the students. I want to understand more about them on a personal level and find deeper insight.
As I started thinking about students with mental health challenges, I realized I should also consider my own mental health, as well as that of other SA professionals. There are many professionals and grads that grapple with mental health in their personal lives. I realized that I needed to find a way to better understand not only the students’ issues, but also my own struggles with mental health. In my search for such insight, I came across an article that I found very helpful.
I discovered this article recently from The Mighty and felt it provided a great look at high functioning depression. From my own experience, I found the article to be enlightening. Usually when it comes to our students, we would look for failing grades, not leaving dorm rooms, roommate concerns, etc. as warning signs. Sometimes depression cannot be seen by looking at the surface of someone’s life and deciding if they fall under a checklist of symptoms. This article points out that those suffering as high functioning tend not to exhibit the warnings of depression.
Those suffering from this form of depression can be seen as active within the community and have good grades or good relationships at work. I think it is important to remember that every student and co-worker could be living with this struggle and no matter how someone acts on the outside, they can still be in trouble on the inside. We need to look past the signs and find other ways to get students and colleagues to open up about these issues. While I do not think everyone needs to be interrogated, I think we need to provide support that allows those suffering to feel comfortable enough to speak up when they are struggling and get help.
The line that hit me the most from the article was “If we keep allowing our perception of what mental illness looks like to dictate how we go about recognizing and treating it, we will continue to overlook those who don’t fit the mold.” I do not want to overlook students, nor do I want to overlook my own struggle, nor that of other grads/professionals.
I think it is important to keep reading material such as this one and search for more resources for students.
As SA professionals we are the ones who can get someone the help they need and in turn, we may also help ourselves.