Returning to Gustavus, or starting your first year at Gustavus, tends to be an exciting time.
You get to greet old friends you may not have seen over the summer, and you get to make new ones.
You have a fresh start for classes, and the leaves are changing color.
It does not get much better than that.
For some people however, returning to campus is an experience full of stressors that can trigger the various illnesses they struggle with.
For those who have a mental illness, the preparation for getting back to GAC involve considering how their mental state will be perceived by those around them.
Although a majority of students are likely to be worried by what others think about them, the thoughts running through the minds of those with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can differ from what those who don’t suffer from these afflictions are thinking.
For example, what others will think of their clothing or how they sound in class may cross their minds.
But what worries those with mental illnesses the most is how people will react when they find out they have a mental illness, and the stigma that will likely follow this “reveal”.
Gustavus does a fantastic job of fostering a positive community for those with mental illnesses in the form of the Counseling Center.
However, despite having a place to be open about our struggles, Gustavus is not completely void of the stigma which exists elsewhere.
Stigmas are innately part of us as humans.
We all grew up in a world that did not encourage being open about things such as mental illnesses.
We grew up seeing those with mental illnesses depicted as crazy on television shows, in books, and in movies.
Rarely did mental illnesses get depicted as they actually are–an illnesslike any other, which can be treated with the right medication and therapy.
Consequently, those with mental illnesses are often judged when they open up about taking medication for their illness.
People often assume that mental illnesses can be “cured” by drinking more water, talking through problems, and exercising.
Although this does help many people cope and some even recover from bad periods with mental illnesses, it does not work for everyone.
For many, myself included, medication is a path we choose to take, one that alters our lives forever and for the better.
Mental illnesses are, at the most basic, chemical imbalances in the brain.
If medicine helps correct these imbalances that are wreaking havoc on our lives, what right do other people have to judge the choice to medicate?
We do not deny those with diabetes insulin; we should not deny those with depression Prozac (or any of the other many prescription options).
Moreover, many people believe that when someone opens up about their struggles with mental illnesses they are seeking attention.
Perhaps they are, but generally not for the reasons many people assume.
When someone opens up about their mental health it is to bring awareness to the issue at hand: that those with mental illnesses are treated differently than those with physical differences.
And this is still certainly the case at Gustavus, try as we might to remedy the issue.
So, although we may know better than to assume that those with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses are crazy or seeking attention, this is often the first thought that crosses one’s mind when confronted with the topic.
Stigmas never completely go away, but communities can grow stronger than the stigma and fight against the stereotypes that live in people’s minds.
Now, I am not saying that Gustavus is the absolute worst when it comes to the stigma behind mental illnesses, but I am saying that there is still work to be done.
When a classmate says that they missed class because they could not mentally be there, don’t nag them and say they were just taking a nap.
Perhaps that nap is the only thing keeping them going.
If someone asks for notes and they were sitting next to you in class staring into space the entire hour because they could not focus, offer them up.
Do not believe the first thoughts that come to your mind.
Because what is most important is not what you think first, but what comes to mind second and how you decide to fix your first thoughts.