I got help. You can too.

Spencer Buckner

It took a decade of depression for me to seek counseling. 

A decade of often feeling worthless, hopeless, lost. A decade stuck in monthslong bouts of suicidal ideation that came and went from fourth grade to my sophomore year of college. A decade of refusing to tell my family and my closest friends, masking my pain with humor, afraid that I would burden them if they knew how I actually felt.

When it started, I was too young to have a name for it or know what it really was. As I got older, I still didn’t understand my depression. I kept it bottled up, afraid that people would see me as weak, dramatic or broken. It’s still not easy for me to talk about it.

Two weeks ago, I called the Counseling and Mental Health Center and scheduled my first counseling appointment. I had been on their website many times, often to schedule interviews, sometimes to type the number into my phone to book an appointment and sit anxiously, never finding the strength to call. During my lowest points here at UT, I found myself in this situation often — knowing I needed professional help but afraid that people would find out, or that I’d be told that there was nothing wrong with me or — worst of all — that nothing would get better.

In the 15 minutes I spent on the phone, I got an individual counseling session scheduled. They asked me what I was feeling and why I wanted help. The professional I spoke to was kind and understanding and assured me everything I said was confidential. The paranoia I had about being rejected or judged was totally unfounded.

Last week I had my first counseling session, an intake session to better understand why I was there and what help I needed. After about four to six free CMHC sessions, I’ll be given the option to continue counseling with an off-campus professional. With a single phone call, it feels like I’ve finally started taking my mental health back into my own hands, and even after one session, I already feel more optimistic about the future.

Many Longhorns, however, have yet to seek help. In the 2017-2018 school year, the CMHC provided services to 6,890 Longhorns, a number that’s been steadily rising in the past decade. It’s still only about 13% of all students on campus. Compare that to the 51.8% of students who felt hopeless, the 37.9% who were too depressed to function, the 57.6% who felt overwhelming anxiety, the 63.3% who felt very lonely in the past year.

It’s hard to say exactly why there is such a discrepancy between the number of students who have self-identified mental health struggles and those who seek professional help. Likely culprits are a pervasive stigma against mental health, lack of information on available resources and a lack of understanding on what warrants counseling or psychiatry, among other things. What can be definitively said, however, is that thousands of Longhorns aren’t accessing free mental health care that can meaningfully improve their lives.

If you are unsure of what steps to take regarding your mental health, call the CMHC at 512-471-3515. All it takes is 15 minutes, and a professional can help steer you in the right direction, be it individual counseling, group counseling, psychiatric services or another avenue. If finances are a barrier, the CMHC takes that into account when discussing your options for care. If you or someone you know is going through a crisis, call the CMHC’s crisis line at 512-471-2255 or visit their office in the SSB.

Counseling isn’t the only way to care for your mental health. MindBody Labs, self-paced spaces designed to help students manage their mental and emotional help, are located in the Student Services Building and Student Activity Center for all Longhorns to use. Even reaching out to a loved one to talk about something you’re going through can be an important step in building an ongoing dialogue about your mental health.

It took me 10 years to seek professional help. If you’re concerned about your mental health, if it’s affecting your grades, your relationships, your hobbies or your daily life, don’t wait as long as I did. 

Mental health can be incredibly difficult to talk about, even to the people you trust the most. Do not be ashamed about how you feel or of how others may react. The more we talk about mental health, normalize it, advertise the resources that exist and support our friends and loved ones, the more we build an environment where people can and do find help. In 15 minutes, I accomplished what had evaded me for years. I got help. You can too.

Buckner is a Plan II and journalism junior from Austin. He is the editor-in-chief.