For as long as I can remember, the adults in my life have constantly waxed poetic about how “college is the best four years of your life” where you “meet your lifelong best friends” and “find yourself”. This was most likely the case for people who were in college at least 15 or 20 years ago, as my experience has proved to be the exact antithesis of the social paradise I was told to expect and unfortunately I’m not alone in this sentiment.
When I was 17, I eagerly waited to start this new chapter in my life, forget the past, grow up and find “my people”. That August I came into school expecting to instantly connect with like-minded, compassionate people who’d just get me instantly and nights of laughter and partying.
I was soon in for a rude awakening once reality set in and I was struggling figuring out how to find a formula to ensure this “college experience” balancing academics and socializing, as well as dealing with an extremely ill-matched roommate situation. The latter issue was particularly detrimental for me since I go a very small college where it’s extremely difficult if not almost impossible to make friends if you don’t become friends with your roommate or people from your dorm freshman year.
I’m naturally painfully shy and reserved around new people. It takes me a while to warm up to others but little did I know that this was so not going to fly in college. No matter what I did, joining clubs, reaching out to people in my dorm, I just couldn’t click with anyone and was constantly walking on eggshells in social situations. Having no friends was what triggered my depression which was eventually diagnosed during my sophomore year. I’ve spent far more nights crying myself to sleep over being lonely and friendless than partying or hanging out with girlfriends like on TV. When I tried reaching out to the on-campus counseling services the advice they gave was extremely unhelpful and I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously at all.
There are increasing numbers of college students experiencing depression and anxiety across the country with extreme consequences, that range from dropping out to suicide. In my opinion, college counseling services and resources are well-meaning but poorly trained to be supportive. I still haven’t felt comfortable opening up to any of my professors or my academic adviser about my personal issues and loneliness. I can’t even handle it when busybody acquaintances pester me asking “how college is” and about all the “friends I’ve made here.” These kind of questions still get under my skin and make me feel violated.
The only time when institutions seems to acknowledge mental health issues is around finals by providing stress balls or free hot chocolate as temporary distractions, when what’s really necessary is long-term support and acceptance for those who need it. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Hence talking about depression and anxiety should be as much of a household topic as being reminded to eat your fruits and vegetables every day. Universities need to make sure that the health professionals they employ are certified and competent to deal with students in crisis.
Dorm life is definitely not the most friendly, healthy environment for young people and can often be a huge source of bad decisions, stress, and toxicity. I certainly wish I had been able to find some source of support and community, even while facing the inevitable stress of college life. I’ve had to deal with these issues on my own, going through therapists off campus until I finally found someone I clicked with and who got me.
I’m not completely alright but I know that one day I will be and that one day I will find people in my life who love me and accept me for who I am even if I haven’t found them in my undergraduate years. Rather than feeling shame for what I’ve gone through I choose to speak openly about it hoping I can help someone else who is in the same boat as I wish someone had done for me when I was a bright-eyed, naive, 17-year-old.