There are a variety of ways to handle mental health

Leslie Blanco / Staff Writer

I’m not writing this to convince anyone of anything. I am simply writing this from my own personal viewpoint as a reflection of my experience with anxiety and depression, as well as the journey that it took to heal through it all.

Anxiety and depression are prevalent in college environments. This is due to stress, drastic life events and genetics. College students are at a fragile age where they have a lot of pressure burdened on them to figure out who they are and who they want to be. One misstep can determine your whole future.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are one of the most common illnesses in the United States. It affects approximately 18 percent of the population nationwide and it costs the US more than $42 billion a year for treatment.

This is almost one-third of the $148 billion mental health bill total. Women are twice as more likely than men to be affected by panic disorders, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Whether treatment occurs through medication or alternative methods, general anxiety and depression are treatable disorders.

Yet there is a stigma attached to depression and anxiety. Many people, even today, are insensitive to individuals affected. They mistake it as something that can be easily fixed. Healing takes time.

Admittedly, I still encounter anxiety and depressive moods from time to time. However, I feel more in control now than I did a couple of years ago when I first encountered the illness. I’m certain that my personal experiences can help those who are suffering similarly.

I became emotionally, spiritually and physically sensitive over the past few years. A change of schools, new environment and changes in my family life contributed to the anxiety and depression I’ve developed.

I was born and raised in New York and grew up in Miami. I transferred to the University of Florida my sophomore year. Gainesville was a far cry from the diverse and metropolitan living environment that I was used to. Despite the surrounding nature, the school is the main focal point of the city.

There was hardly any diversity and residents were mostly between ages 18-24. Despite this, many of the students were motivated. I tried to emulate them. I tried to be active every morning and get straight As to be successful and feel relevant. The pressure was definitely there.

However, I joined one club that I enjoyed deeply. The club members and I all loved music. Our job was to get bands to the University to play shows. This was a creative endeavor that helped me stay true to who I was: someone who produces as an artist and a writer. I was not a consumer or a replica of a perfect straight A student.

Ultimately, the pressure got to me and the environment in which I lived dimmed into something very lonely. I felt isolated. Despite Gainesville being an ideal place for a lot of people, I felt like I didn’t belong. No matter how hard I tried to emulate what was expected of me, I couldn’t force it.

I never had anxiety or depression before, at least not to this extreme. I wasn’t sleeping well and I was focused on multiple things at once. This all caught up with me.

I was studying journalism in a university with one of the country’s best programs. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to cope as I had originally intended due to my ensuing illness. My grades were slipping.

Eventually, my mother took me to see a psychiatrist who prescribed me medication for “clinical depression” – even though I’ve never had it. I asked him if I had to take this medication for the rest of my life. He replied that most people do.

At that point, I decided that I didn’t want to be on medication. I was determined to heal as naturally as possible, even if it meant leaving school to protect my mental health.

I couldn’t compromise my mental health with staying somewhere just for the name of a well-known university. I moved back home the following semester. Unfortunately, the anxiety and depression was still so severe that I had to take a semester off.

Unexpectedly, something positive emerged from this draining and mentally challenging experience. I became more empathetic, health conscious and vied for living sustainably. I found my niche.

I started adopting a healthy diet, doing yoga and keeping a journal. I read books, painted and engaged in activities that made me feel happy. I also stopped consuming alcohol, caffeine and anything else that alters biology.

People with clinical depression experience depression and anxiety all their lives and need medication to function normally. For me, however, time really did help. Over time, the negativity peeled away and life opened itself up again.

Since settling back home, it took months for my sleeping habits to get back to normal. It took half a year for me to become completely stable. Keep in mind, not everyone will heal at around the same time or in the same way. It can take anywhere from months to years to overcome one’s anxiety or depression.

I look at anxiety and depression differently now. I see depression as a person’s way of finding their niche and a sign to heal. Now a senior at FIU and graduating debt free, I don’t regret any part of my past.

My best advice would be to slow down and reassess your life. Do the things you love and that make you happy. Remember to always surround yourself with people who love and support you. Time can heal. Also, anxiety comes and goes. Just know that you’re not alone.

[Image from Flickr, resized]

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