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More people than ever are seeking mental health treatment. However, the negative stigma around mental health care remains prevalent. The devaluation of dialogue surrounding certain topics may discourage people from seeking social & professional support. 

To encourage open discussions on mental health issues, our Mental Health Advocate Interns conducted a series of interviews featuring a diverse group of college students. By sharing their stories rooted in courage & perseverance, we aim to illuminate the pivotal role therapy plays in promoting behaviors that help to combat mental health challenges.

Storytelling often initiates the emotional healing process in an individual & inspires others to speak out. Initially asking for help can feel shameful & scary – it requires true strength & bravery. Although each person’s journey is unique, we’re able to cultivate connections through shared experiences.

This post contains content related to depression, self-harm, and suicide. While our objective is to provide a safe space for people to share stories honestly, we acknowledge that some may experience adverse reactions. If this post begins to upset you, please stop reading & seek support.

Interview #2: Depression & Self-Harm

Mental health problems don’t define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain, but, importantly, you are not the rain. 

Matt Haig

How would you identify yourself in terms of sexuality, gender, ethnicity, etc.?

First-generation Chinese-American heterosexual cis woman.

What mental health challenges have you faced that you’d like to share? 

I first attempted suicide when I was 13. I was found in the bathtub by my family with a bottle of pills by my side. They didn’t understand it and I didn’t want to be honest, so we let that conversation go. I knew that I was depressed, but I was too afraid to get a diagnosis and ask my mother to see a therapist. For years after that, I kept it to myself and self-harmed behind closed doors. When I was 16, I attempted again after a fight with my abusive boyfriend. Unlike the last, this attempt happened in a public space and somebody called the cops on me. This was the first time I was placed under a 5150 hold, which is where I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression and began seeing a psychiatrist/therapist. After being on and off on antidepressants and receiving psychotherapy for years, I am now proud to say that I am permanently off antidepressants and am no longer in need of intensive therapy. While there are still triggers that can cause certain symptoms to arise, I rarely ever relapse into my worst state and no longer self-harm.

How do you think your identities (sexuality, gender, race, socioeconomic status, disability, culture, etc.) have affected your journey with mental health?

Being the first in my family to be born in America meant that I would constantly have to battle between the different values between Eastern and Western communities. My mother was raised in a culture that devalues vulnerability and the expression of emotions. Mental health is not something that Chinese culture emphasizes as a priority. These cultural and language barriers prevented me from communicating my honest feelings with my family, which left me silent about my pain for years. This threw me into a dark, incessant hole that made me feel incapable of ever getting the support I needed. I also think that being a female perpetuates the toxic mindset that it is normal to feel these depressive emotions and that I am just finding something to complain about. It almost felt like cutting into my skin was a precious thing — something that was meant to be romanticized and beautified. But it shouldn’t be. Hurting yourself to the brink of suicide is not beautiful — it’s a call for help. In my opinion, we really need to work harder as a society to break away from our patriarchal system that pushes women who speak up into a voiceless corner.

These cultural and language barriers prevented me from communicating my honest feelings with my family, which left me silent about my pain for years.

What’s helped you during times of distress? For example, friends or family who support you, mantras/self-care routines to follow, therapists, etc?

What helped me the most in my process of healing was definitely therapy. Although my loved ones tried their hardest to support me through my battle against depression, many of them could not comprehend the travesty of it and often felt helpless. I would constantly tell myself that I was nothing more than a burden to these people, which only prevented me from opening up to them even more. Therapy provided me with a safe space where I could unapologetically be myself without feeling the need to impress anybody or put on a mask. Talking to someone who had no pre-existing biases or expectations of me made me feel like I was enough. Since my case of depression is no longer severe, I have been able to adopt coping mechanisms that I am now able to use without the help of others. When I feel a panic attack is approaching or that something has triggered me, I try to focus my attention on my breathing patterns and calm myself down before reaching out to someone about it. I have also adopted more meditative practices like practicing gratitude and being more present in my body, my mind, and my soul.

What do you appreciate that people close to you have done in those times of distress? Is there anything you wish they did differently? 

As I said before, I used to avoid talking to people about my depression like the plague because I hated the feeling of being pitied and seen as a helpless lost cause. I never wanted to burden others with my problems, so I often dissociated myself from situations that brought up my depression. However, I realize now that the people who do care about me don’t choose to go out of their way to support me because they pity me, but because they genuinely want the best for me. I think that I always felt that if somebody wasn’t going through the exact same thing I was, then they would never understand or be capable of empathizing with me. If you asked me this back then, I would say that I hated it when people would try to act like they know what I’m going through. While I still don’t think you should ever say you fully understand what someone is going through, I know now what true empathy looks like and it is something that I appreciate immensely. Just listening to someone, ensuring that you are there to support them, and validating their feelings is more than enough. It’s important to know that you don’t need to solve someone’s problems to help them; you just need to tell them that you care enough to listen.

If you’ve received therapy, what was your process when finding a therapist & booking your first session?

I’m not sure if this is true for everybody, but I know that as a minor, it was required of me to see a psychiatrist and get a proper diagnosis during the 5150 hold. After I was officially diagnosed, I was matched with a social worker/therapist that I saw weekly. I did this through a non-profit organization that offers youth mental health services.

Talking to (a therapist) who had no pre-existing biases or expectations of me made me feel like I was enough.

Did you use insurance to cover therapy? If so, how so? 

I was matched with a therapist that worked for an organization that specifically offers mental health services for those with Medi-Cal (which is the health insurance I had at the time).

Did you participate in a specific type of therapy (CBT, Talking Therapy (CCT), EMDR, etc)? If so, do you think it was effective?

I participated in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), client-centered therapy (CCT), and group therapy. Particularly, what really helped me change my toxic mindset was CBT. It provided me with practical ways to confront my irrational and negative thought patterns and come up with healthier alternatives in coping with triggers. This, along with CCT, helped me the most when I was at my lowest peak. Group therapy was definitely not for me.

What have you learned from therapy? How has it helped you? 

I learned that I have much more control over my thought patterns and emotions than I thought I did. Much of my panic attacks and depressive episodes were triggered by a series of emotional, impulsive outbreaks where I felt that I had little to no control over what my mind was telling me. Therapy taught me that there are ways to practice self-awareness and to be more centered. In turn, this has allowed to me feel more comfortable when I do start to have these negative thoughts because I now know how to respond to and confront them without going downhill. I also think that therapy has helped a lot in making me feel confident in myself and knowing that I am not alone, that is more than okay to reach out for help and that I am strong for doing so. I have never felt such stronger validation than what I got from therapy.

Would you recommend therapy & other mental health care services?

Yes, I would 100% recommend therapy and other mental health care services to anybody who needs it.

What message would you like to share with others facing similar challenges? 

You are worth loving and accepting. It may feel like everybody is out to get you or that you are not enough, but I am here to tell you that you are and always will be enough. Your feelings deserve to be heard, cherished, and validated. If you choose to make the step in seeking out help, know that that is a sign of strength, bravery, and most importantly, acceptance of yourself. Although I was practically forced into it, I am so thankful that I got the professional help I needed at the time. Every day of my life, I count my blessings for being here today and for having the angels fight this battle with me on my side. It is a long, strenuous journey to overcome something as ruthless as depression, but I promise that there is a light at the end of that tunnel and you will eventually reach it. Just know that there are people who want to help you. It is not an easy thing to admit that you need help at all, but it is never something to be ashamed of. Please take care of yourself. You’re loved.

If you choose to make the step in seeking out help, know that that is a sign of strength, bravery, and most importantly, acceptance of yourself.

Do you have any personal experience with UCSB mental health resources that you’d like to share?

I originally tried to get connected with a therapist from CAPS when I first came to UCSB, but was unable to due to the high volume and their inability to provide long-term therapy. I did some more research and found that UCSB’s Student Health offers a social work service, so I reached out to them through a simple phone call and managed to schedule an appointment all within a week! That was the Fall quarter of my freshman year. I am now about to finish my third year and have been seeing the same therapist. I highly recommend trying that out, since I know that CAPS is often overwhelmed. I also recently found out about Acacia not too long ago and am pleased to find out that there is a long-term therapy service right in Isla Vista.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience? 

Thank you for doing something like this. It is so important to be transparent and expressive in these sensitive topics because the stigma around mental health care continues to perpetuate. It is important that there is a safe space for all of our voices to be heard and accepted.

We commend you for your dedication to prioritizing mental health & for sharing this part of your journey. Together we work to silence the stigma & triumph over trauma.

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They provide 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

Acacia’s mission is to provide college students a safe, supportive space in which they receive quality and consistent mental health care that is highly accessible, affordable, specialized, and culturally sensitive. Visit our website to learn more & to begin your journey with us!

Interview conducted by Maggie Yao & Molly Delzio, Mental Health Advocate Interns at Acacia Isla Vista

Composed by Danielle Sharkey, Acacia Marketing

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