World Mental Health Day helps bring more attention to mental illness

Editor's Note: We've chosen to publish this op-ed anonymously, at the author's request, due to the sensitive nature of its subject matter. 

On Friday, I watched as hundreds of students flooded out of the confines of campus, loaded onto buses and into cars, and began their 200-mile trek to Dallas for the Texas/OU football game. It’s an exciting weekend, and for many, Friday likely marked the beginning of a weekend-long release of stress from midterms and class projects.

However, Friday also marked a significant day around the globe: World Mental Health Day. An educational campaign, World Mental Health Day aims to promote and advocate mental health to the global community. The first Mental Health Day, which comes toward the end of a longer, Congressionally-approved Mental Illness Awareness Week, took place in 1992, the year I was born, actually. So for my entire life, there has been an annual global celebration of mental health awareness and prevention. Growing up, especially throughout my teenage years, I saw a shift toward open conversation about mental health. I have witnessed successful movements to chip away at the stigma against mental illness and, on a smaller scale, safe places or forums for individuals to discuss their experiences. But there is still so much more to be done.

I know this because I’ve faced the struggles of mental illness personally. When I was forced to confront my own affliction, I was unsure of how to access the resources available to me, apply the information I had been equipped with or navigate various counseling or treatment centers. I never felt comfortable enough to confide in a friend, or even a family member, to share my “secret.” The feelings of despair and helplessness crept in so deeply that I thought no one could truly understand my pain. I held onto the misconception that people would judge me, no longer treat me with kindness or respect or perceive me as weak.

I let misunderstandings about mental health paralyze me from getting the help I so desperately needed. I chose to comply with the culture of silence that still surrounds mental health, despite the positive efforts and services, even with the educational tools and resources. Friday was World Mental Health Day, and also a reminder that we aren’t devoting adequate time to exchanging dialogue on mental health treatment and prevention.

Mental health doesn’t affect just one portion of the population. We have all dealt with mental health issues in some capacity and on some point of the spectrum. I have been a successful student at UT, involved in student leadership and immersed in academic enrichment opportunities such as research and internships. Hiding my internal battles did not make me a better student or leader. It did not make me more successful but rather hindered me from maintaining my high level of achievement. I believe it takes greater strength and courage to talk about these issues, particularly if you have a close, first-hand experience.

I believe we need to make a collective effort to become more supportive of and concerned about student mental health. As friends, peers and Longhorns, we can play a crucial role in prevention and outreach initiatives. Together, we can achieve a campus climate where each student will engage thoughtfully as an active member and help their fellow students with problems they may face. I wish someone had done the same for me, and I wish I had been able to talk about mental health.

We are a network of supporters. As students return to classes Monday, I hope some will read and perhaps share this article with friends and classmates. Putting the focus on mental health doesn’t end after World Mental Health Day. The conversations need to continue, and we can be there for each other. So, please, let’s break our culture of silence. Let’s research; let’s educate; let’s talk. To learn more about World Mental Health Day or mental health in general, please visit http://www.nami.org/ or http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml.