Asking for Help: A Student’s Personal Struggle with Mental Illness

As the month of May comes to an end, Peer Educator Erika Garcilazo reflects on the importance of fighting the stigma of mental illness and reaching out to others for support.

BREAKING THE SILENCE – MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH

By Erika Garcilazo

stop-the-stigma-of-mental-illness-e1381250784828May is Mental Health Awareness Month. But what exactly does that mean? It seems like we have so many awareness months it’s hard to keep track of them or even really know how we can participate. When it comes to awareness, the first step is to look within yourself and how this issue has affected or currently affects you. I think the first thing that many people notice about the topic of mental health is the stigma. Many of us are afraid to share our struggles, and even more notably we are afraid to ask for help. I definitely have experienced the reality of this stigma first-hand.

There have been many times in my studies here at UCSC where I was juggling various personal issues, some of them relating to mental illness.  I felt that if I shared this with anyone, I would seem weak or I would somehow be less than a productive and intelligent student. There were many factors contributing to me feeling this way; having already felt out of place in higher education as a first generation student of color, my mental illness made my experience as a student that much more difficult. I felt alone and lost. This isolated outlook on what I was going through kept me not only from getting the help I needed, but made me feel unworthy of the opportunities surrounding me, pushing me deeper into my depression. At times it seemed as though I was the only one going through these feelings, and that was a very scary place.

Thankfully I was able to reach out and find the support and help I needed. I realized I wasn’t alone. It took me a while to learn to manage my mental illness, and even now I still have bouts where the struggle becomes daunting. But I’ve learned that although this is something I will personally have to manage throughout my life, I can be happy and I can be productive. Even though I may fall off the horse every now and then it gets easier to get back on every time. Not too long ago it would have been impossible for me to share this story, but I’ve tired of the stigma. I hope that in sharing my experience, those who  are going through something similar will be empowered to break the silence and ask for help. You are not alone.

The truth is 1 in 4 of individuals in the US struggle with some type of mental illness throughout our lives. Being a student can be hard. For many of us it comes with unique struggles and barriers that at times culminate into a challenge that can seem insurmountable. Fighting it alone makes it that much more difficult. Never be afraid to ask for help, even though at first it can be hard to do so. Some people may not understand, and it may take a couple tries before you find the help and resources that are right for you. But take it from me the more you practice the more you start to realize you are never alone. This month of May lend an ear to a person in need, or even better yet begin the conversation by breaking your own silence.

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