‘I am a prisoner of my own mind’

Editor’s note: Because of the nature of this story, some of the names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Today’s college students struggle with anxiety and depression. Photo by Caton Deuso

“We start driving – and we’re driving in silence. That’s when my dad, who’s a very calm and measured man who doesn’t jerk you around said ‘your grandmother is dying. It could be hours, it could be minutes; we just don’t know.’”

Little did Logan know, this exact moment would be the start to his personal struggle with anxiety.

Anxiety is one of the most important concerns for college students across the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the top presenting concern among college students is anxiety at a whopping 41.6 percent.

Four years ago, Logan lost his grandmother and his struggle with anxiety, depression, and PTSD ensued.

“This woman who held my family together, she was gone,” Logan said. “That year for me was the most difficult because I was angry at everybody. I didn’t care who you were, somehow the grief I was going through was your fault,” he said.

Logan shutting out family and blaming others for his pain was a sign of depression and followed by anxiety shortly after.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health disorders among college students. And as of the spring of 2014, a Penn State University study found that anxiety had actually surpassed depression and was now the leading mental disorder for college students.

Hannah, another Castleton student who has struggled with anxiety, said for her it started in high school.

“Whenever I’d walk down the hallway and hear someone laugh, I’d think they were laughing at me.  I never knew why they’d be laughing at me, but it made me feel so self-conscious,” she said.

Hannah’s fight with anxiety followed her into college. With her overwhelming accounting major and two jobs, stress is almost always constant. Often, she said, she can feel an anxiety attack coming on. She explains high stress situations tend to cause an attack to take over.

“I usually get chest pains before it happens,” she said with a bowed head.

The 2016 College Health Survey done by the Vermont Department of Health, found that three in 10 Vermont college students had been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety in the last 12 months. Why so many? It could be due to the 21 percent spike of academic stress between 2014 and 2016 found in the same report.

At Castleton University, the Wellness Center sees first-hand the anxiety that school causes students and center officials say they are doing everything they can to help people who are struggling.

“We have documentation of anxiety being the number one complaint people come in with. That really mirrors what’s happening in the rest of the country and on other college campus’,” said Martha Coulter, the director of Castleton’s Wellness Center.

Another college campus seeing an increase in mental health disorders is Boston University. Behavioral Medicine clinicians at Boston University reported that 647 students received help for anxiety and depression in the 2014-2015 school year and then 906 students in the 2015-2016 year.

As years go by, more and more students find themselves seeking help from friends and professionals to control their anxiety. According to Time Magazine, from 2006 to 2015, there was a 30 percent increase in students seeking mental health help.

Hannah still remembers her breaking point, she doesn’t remember the exact reason why she broke down, but she remembers how powerful it was.

“It was honestly embarrassing for me because I didn’t know why I was having such intense feelings for something that should’ve been so minor. I was crying over something stupid and my mom was with me and I just said to her that I needed help and I wanted to see a therapist,” she said.

But are there ways to ease the anxiety without help? For common mental coping mechanisms for anxiety, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends remembering you can’t control everything, to do your best and not aim for perfection, maintain a positive attitude, and learn your triggers.

“Basically, I am a prisoner of my own mind. I work in a place where I have to deal with people and that can trigger it. If someone comes at me swinging for something that’s not my fault, I’m going to have an anxiety attack,” Logan said.

Hannah can relate.

“My chest feels very tight and it’s hard for me to breath.  Sometimes I breath a lot and can’t get a certain thought or memory out of my head that’s causing me to feel anxious,” she said.

So how can people pinpoint those triggers? Healthline, an online privately-owned health information network, claims that keeping a journal, working with a therapist, and being honest with yourself and your emotions can help you determine what causes anxiety.

“If I’m in a stressful environment like work, I will typically have a very minor anxiety attack or at the very least chest pains,” Hannah said.

What also struck Hannah was how much alone time she was having. She often distanced herself from people in her life and wanted nothing but to do but be alone. Coulter explained that this behavior is a sign someone needs help.

Coulter, from the Wellness Center, stressed that signs that corelate with anxiety also sometimes go unnoticed.

“Behaviors students exhibit is not participating socially and academically, missing classes, abusing substances, and unable to handle everyday situations,” she said.

Hannah has learned many ways to control her anxiety, but she has found the best method is to live in the moment.

“Being present in the moment and mindful helps me manage my anxiety. Trying not to get all in my head and overthink things is helpful too.  I just need to take a step back a breath,” she says.

Both Hannah and Logan have created coping mechanisms for their anxiety, and they have something to tell people who are afraid to seek help for their mental health.

“Reach out to the Wellness Center. I learned that I can’t just fix everything all by myself, and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Receiving help will make it easier to get over and deal with your anxiety,” Hannah said.

Logan agreed and offered similar advice.

“For those who don’t exactly know what it is, for those who are struggling so deep with it, I’ve been there. But there’s absolutely no shame whatsoever being man, woman, no gender label with it, to take the walk or pick up the phone and give a call to the Wellness Center and get counseling. Because they open up so many different ways of looking at mental health,” he said.


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