Every Wednesday afternoon, after leading meetings and taking a full day of classes, I make my routine walk from my department to the Counseling Center.
Every Wednesday afternoon, after filling my hours with my role as editor, treasurer in a student organization and an officer of a sorority, I am confronted with another reality of being a college student; I am confronted with the truth that I, a successful student leader, live with diagnosed mental health disorders.
In my everyday life, I live with anxiety, depression and panic disorder. I take medication, meditate and go to counseling every week. There are days, lately more often than not, when the anxiety wins. But as a student leader with a to-do list a mile long, sometimes I can’t take the day off even when my brain tells me I need to.
Every day that I work and live in this reality of balancing mental health, self-care, leadership positions and getting my degree, I’m affronted with yet another reality: I am by far not the only one.
Student leaders on campus sometimes, whether intentional or not, become the faces of their organizations. They become faces that everyone knows or at least knows of. They become faces that are used as examples by parents and professors. They become faces of model students. They become faces of the college experience.
None of that attention shows the yucky stuff. Prospective members aren’t going to look at a sorority president and think “That’s what living with depression looks like.”
No one is going to look at the popular organization leader and say “This is what living with anxiety looks like.”
No one is going to look at me and say “That’s what living with panic disorder looks like,” because it’s not a part of the reality people assign to student leaders.
Over the past year, we’ve heard about taking the stigma away from mental health so much so there’s been a stigma created around breaking down the original stigma. People are tired of hearing about how to handle depression, anxiety and COVID-19 fatigue.
As much as we emphasize the importance of mental health conversations surrounding the general population, we still don’t talk about the importance of mental health conversation surrounding those in leadership positions. Just because student leaders are in important positions with a lot more responsibility that doesn’t mean they are inherently ‘normal’ and emotionally stable.
All of that to say this: being a student leader and going to therapy aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s extremely possible to do both. College students know the classic argument that when you say yes to one thing you say no to another but saying yes to acknowledging mental health and going to counseling doesn’t mean you say no to leadership positions and extracurriculars. Student leaders are capable of doing both the same way all students are capable of being successful while taking care of themselves.
So to the student leaders on campus, who struggle with mental health, are looking for help or have already found it, know you are not alone. I’ll proudly give you my testimony about living with panic disorder and working three big jobs, and I know other leaders on campus who would do the same.