Some of you may be aware that I've been having a really fun time with depression and anxiety over the past year or so. Some of you may not have been aware of that. It's been fun, though, trust me.
The good news is, college is full of useful resources and accommodations for people with physical or mental health conditions. The bad news is, nobody seems to know about them, or if they do, they're not entirely capable of accessing them.
Here's an analogy:
You have no arms. (This may seem weird, just go with it. It's relevant later.)
So you have no arms, and somehow you fall into a hole. Or are pushed into a hole. Or you're just walking along and the hole opens up underneath you. Or maybe you run and jump into the hole on purpose. The thing is — and this is crucial — it doesn't really matter why you ended up in a hole. A lot of people seem to miss this point, including the people (professors, petitions committee members, etc.) who are supposed to help you. Yeah, there's a time and place for examining how you got into the hole, and maybe you could have prevented it, and it might help the university to figure out how to put up fences around the holes or prevent them from spontaneously appearing in the first place. However, the time and place for that isn't while you're still in the hole. If you're still in the hole, the first priority should be to get you out.
The point is, you're in this hole, and somehow you've managed to convince the people standing outside the hole to stop interrogating you about how you got into it and they're willing to try to get you out. You need to get out, because you can't really do your homework in the hole, or go to the testing center, or shower, or really do anything. The hole is pretty boring, not to mention unproductive. It doesn't even have WiFi.
Your rescuer lowers a rope ladder, says "Here you go! Don't forget to hand in your paper on European portraiture on Tuesday!", and walks away.
"Wait! I can't climb this ladder! I have no arms!" you yell as they leave. They keep walking.
Several days later, they come back. You have a couple of bruises from trying to climb a rope ladder without arms, and you're pretty hungry and greasy. "Why didn't you finish your paper?" they demand. "You can't stay in this hole forever. I even gave you a way to get out!"
"Being stuck in a hole isn't an excuse to blow off your assignments."
"But," you protest, "I couldn't get out of the hole. I can't climb a rope ladder with no arms."
"Look. You shouldn't have fallen into this hole in the first place, but we've given you all the resources you needed to get out. Just because you have no arms doesn't mean you get to be self-pitying and take no responsibility for yourself. Rope ladders have helped plenty of people climb out of holes before. You have everything you need — you're just not using it."
They walk away and leave you in the hole.
Somehow, being stuck in a dirt hole for days on end is less upsetting to you than the fact that you're failing Art History.
That's the thing about mental health. Just because various resources are made available doesn't mean you're capable of taking advantage of them on your own, or that they're designed in a way that's actually helpful. And that's assuming you even know about the resources! If you don't, it's more like being told, "If you dig around in the bottom of this hole for a while, you'll find a set of directions to find some rope. If you follow those directions, you'll find another note, which tells you that the rope is back in the first place you dug. Dig around a little longer, and you might stumble upon a length of rope and a couple of stakes. Tie the rope into a ladder, attach it to the top of the hole with the stakes, and you can climb out!"
Then, if you don't manage to follow all those steps and get out of the hole, you have to convince someone to lower a ramp into a hole, and whether or not you get the ramp is dependent upon your ability to justify why you couldn't just use the resources they already provided, or why you need a ramp instead of another ladder. Somehow, I don't have any freaking arms isn't an acceptable answer.
Fortunately for me, between the stars aligning and the support of my husband, I actually managed to climb the ladder somehow. However, between my experience and talking to friends of mine who have had similar experiences, it's come to my attention that most students don't know what resources are available to them, or if they do, they face significant challenges in using them. As an attempt to help with this, I'll be writing a multi-part series that addresses as many relevant topics as I can think of, namely:
- Counselors & Doctors & Stuff
- Visiting the University Accessibility Center
- Talking to Professors
- Withdrawing vs. Incompletes
- Withdrawing as an International Student
- Petitioning the Scholarship Office
- Petitioning After the Withdrawal Deadline
These posts will lay out the basic process for completing these tasks, explain how to know when you need to make use of these resources, and provide examples of emails, petitions statements, and hypothetical conversations for anyone you need to talk with. While these posts focus on BYU, most of the ideas within them should hopefully be applicable across a range of institutions. As the posts are written, links will be added to this page.
If you're experiencing a mental illness in college, or if you know someone who is, please share this information so that people can get the help they need.