Asking for help can be the hardest part
Posted on February 16, 2023
I was only a few weeks into my senior year of college when I thought that I was going to have to drop out.
My GPA was solid. My course load was light. And I was living with thirty of my best friends in our fraternity house.
So why did I suddenly feel so worried all the time? Why was my stomach constantly in a knot and my hands frequently trembling? Why did I no longer feel like going to parties or socializing with my friends? Why did I spend most of my waking hours locked away in my room, alone, just hoping things would suddenly go back to normal?
Several more weeks passed and things only seemed to be getting worse. I knew I had to make a decision: Get help or go home.
I started searching my college’s website to see what resources were available. I found the number for the on-campus counseling center and wrote it down in a place nobody would find it.
Several days passed. My anxiety was amplified. Just the thought of talking to the receptionist and telling her my problems terrified me. Was I then really going to go and talk to some stranger about my feelings? And what was I going to tell her? That my life was great, that I had never experienced any serious trauma, that I had supportive family and friends—but that for no good reason I was suddenly feeling worried and depressed all the time?
It didn’t sound like a compelling option, but it was better than having to tell everyone back home some lie about how I was kicked-out of college because I was caught streaking across the academic quad (or something like that).
So I made the appointment. Three days later I walked across campus to a tiny cobblestone building everyone knew as the Counseling Center. But not before running into a handful of friends on the way, putting my best happy-face on and pretending to be in a rush to my next class.
More than anything, I was most terrified that someone would see me go into the Counseling Center. That they would ask me if I was all right. Because I didn’t have an answer for them. I was a guy—a frat guy at that! I was tough. I was strong. I didn’t have emotions, unless they were happy, carefree, or drunk.
But I did it. I made it into the Counseling Center undetected. And right when I thought that would be a huge relief, I found myself sitting in the lobby across from two of my classmates who were struggling with their own mental health issues.
Great, I remember thinking. Hopefully they don’t know my name.
Well, until the receptionist called out for me a few minutes later…
It was my first therapy session. I had never talked about my own feelings that much before. It didn’t make me feel better at first. It just felt awkward.
But by session two it felt a little less awkward. By session four I felt like I was starting to gain back some control of my emotions. And by session six I felt like I was on a path to being me again. Which was a good thing, because like most colleges, the Counseling Center generally capped the number of sessions a student gets at six.
Looking back, I was lucky to be able to get help from my college’s Counseling Center. I was lucky that there wasn’t a waiting list to get help, like there are at so many other colleges. I was lucky that I was on a road to recovery after six sessions before getting the boot.
But perhaps most importantly, I was lucky to find the courage (or was just so terrified of the alternative), to actually ask for help in the first place.
Maybe if I had known that 1 out of 4 college students experiences a mental health issue, I wouldn’t have felt so alone.
Maybe if I had known that two-thirds of those students don’t get any help at all, I would have been more open about my own issues.
For me, the most difficult thing about dealing with anxiety and depression was making the decision to ask for help. The stigma around mental health can be so daunting. Making an appointment. Walking into a counseling center. Having to tell a stranger about your feelings. It’s enough to turn many students away from professional help altogether.
But maybe by telling our own stories, a student who is struggling out there on their own will realize that they aren’t that bizarre after all. That mental health issues during the college years are as common as the Freshman Fifteen.
Asking for help is hard. But I hope you find the courage to ask.
Written by Cody Semrau, Founder & CEO of BetterMynd.