Mental health has long been a stigmatized topic. Many feel the need to minimize their mental health struggles with the fear of being shamed or ostracized. Culture may also impact one’s likelihood of speaking out about mental health topics or accessing therapy. However, struggling with mental health alone can make day-to-day life strenuous and even miserable.
Four UC Davis students teamed up with Acacia Counseling & Wellness to confront the stigma surrounding mental health and connect students to the resources they need. This community outreach project allowed UCD students to gain a better understanding of the student body, as well as the mental health resources that are available in the Davis area. A survey was conducted to recognize current UCD students’ experiences and grasp their knowledge about the resources available to them.
When asked about their familiarity with mental health, 90.8% of respondents who completed the survey indicated that they know someone who has struggled with mental health issues. Additionally, 75.4% of respondents claimed that they themselves have suffered. That is, mental health struggles are an extremely prevalent problem among college students.
Furthermore, a large majority of those affected by mental health issues seem to know how to access mental health resources; however, many have chosen not to utilize these mental health resources. This could be due to several reasons, from the stigma associated with having or seeking help for mental health issues, to limited costs, time, or even the difficulty associated with reaching out for that help in the first place. Another one of the main reasons expressed for why some people do not seek to utilize mental health resources is because they feel that their issues are not large enough or important enough to seek help. Specifically, one survey respondent said,
“I don’t think my issues are that pressing compared to others.”
Since this survey was taken in November 2021, it is necessary to consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the daily lives of everyone in the past year and beyond, and how this likely impacted people’s mental health. It would be interesting to compare these survey results with similar surveys of Davis students that may have been conducted before or near the start of the pandemic in order to see just how considerably mental health issues may have risen with the pandemic.
The main goal of this project was to show other UC Davis students that they are not alone and that many students on campus struggle with mental health. Additionally, to provide students with the appropriate resources to aid them in their journey.
It is not shameful and it is never too early to seek help, no matter how minor you may believe your symptoms are.
The survey also held space for UCD students to share their personal stories regarding mental health. These narratives were collected anonymously. Here are just a few of the stories our fellow students shared:
“I struggled with bulimia all through high school. This illness turned into severe anorexia towards the end of my senior year. It became so bad that I was unable to go to the college that I intended on enrolling in for that upcoming fall semester. I went to an intensive 3-month rehab center in southern California for the entire summer after high school and then enrolled in community college.
It was so disappointing that my body image and control issues took over my life so much to the point of destroying my college plans.
I am now a junior in college and I have made it out of community college alive. This is a feat in itself. If I hadn’t taken care of my mental and physical health during that summer, I would probably be in an even worse state. I still struggle with disordered thoughts everyday but I have gained a lot of control over my harmful habits. My biggest motivation is knowing that my desire to have children is more important than fitting into a size zero. I live by this quote that I heard in rehab: ‘Your body is the least interesting thing about you.’
“It took me a while to truly grasp this concept but after a lot of time and effort I am able to see myself for everything I am within instead of everything that my mirror was telling me to see.”
“I currently do not have any mental health struggles, but my experience with depression was really tough on me. I moved from Taiwan to Hong Kong and had to adapt to new learning styles and cultural environments. I experienced bullying and ostracization when I was in secondary school and my mental state plummeted from that point on. I felt isolated. I attempted suicide and lost a lot of weight.
“I was born and raised in Asia, where mental health issues are a taboo topic.”
Because of that I wasn’t able to turn to anyone to talk about it, which left me with an overdue need for treatment that lasted nearly 10 years. My experience with depression was the biggest mental health struggle that led to other mental health issues.”
“From my experience, substance and alcohol addictions cause tremendous family suffering and can lead to intergenerational trauma. When I was a child, I did not know how to cope with my mom’s addiction.
“I think the dynamics of my relationship with my mom made me want to “rescue” people who have the same problems. I ended up applying this mindset to my romantic relationships.”
It took several years of deep reflection and mental health support before I realized I could apply these personality tendencies in professional capacities. The nursing route gave me that opportunity to steer clear of endangering my children and me. I no longer have to “rescue” someone who often does not want to be “saved”. Instead, I can care for patients who need my attention. However, I still find it difficult to help a loved one even with years of professional experience. Individuals who take mind-altering substances often inflict harm on themselves and others. It’s like watching slow-motion suicide.
Although I would never want to give up on someone, I left my husband as soon as I learned he was abusing my daughter. I could not change him. People under the influence of alcohol and addictive substances aren’t always going to make the best decisions. No matter how much knowledge and love I possess, the want to change has to come from them.
“I cannot go back in time to undo the harm inflicted on my children and I. However, what I can do is build and maintain self-resilience, empathy, self-compassion, and help my children to do the same.”
As these stories are extremely personal, we would like to acknowledge that it is very brave of our respondents to share this information with us. We express great gratitude to our survey respondents for being so deeply honest, and for sharing a great degree about how their personal experiences have impacted them. We hope that this informs readers that they are not alone and that while anyone may encounter difficulties or persisting issues related to mental health, they will have the strength to overcome them.
We would also like to thank Acacia Counseling & Wellness for working with us this quarter and granting us access to the inner workings of their center. We hope that this reminds readers that they can utilize the resources available to them to help them gain that strength, and it does not make a person weak if they need help with an issue of any scope or size.
Written by Jessica Amato, Yan Ching Stephanie Louie, Maliha Shahzad, & Tova Tremolada