Mental health: Catching the warning signs before the symptoms become severe

BRIANA NGO / AGGIE FILE

Intense stress renders college students especially vulnerable to mental illness

As a college student, I can say that this period in our lives often provides us with the most stress. Between classes, extracurricular activities, jobs and internships, the workload is intense — especially at the start of the transition. The stress continues even after adjusting to the quarter system. With that said, it’s important to pay attention to stress levels because they contribute to both physical and mental well-being. College is a time when taking care of yourself is key to making it through successfully. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 75 percent of mental health conditions occur before the age of 24. This is within the age range of college students, providing another reason to check up on ourselves routinely, as well as our friends, to see how they’re doing.

Of course, a long list appears when a person researches warning signs — but not everyone experiences the same symptoms. The symptoms that come up for mental illnesses are not by any means exaggerated or made up by people who have experienced such an illness. Having little to no energy is a common sign that can usually be felt at the start. This is different from simply being tired, which is what many people will say at first due to their uncertainty. Other early warning signs include unexplained physical aches and a change in sleeping or eating habits. These can also be observed when checking up on a friend — they’re usually demonstrated in the form of high irritability.

When experiencing a symptom, it’s also important to watch how long it lasts. Paying close attention to the body is the first thing to remember when trying to decipher what one’s feelings mean.

If you find yourself experiencing these feelings, what matters most is accepting them. Ignore what other people may think because of stigma. Acknowledge the feelings, study them and talk with someone. Accept the feelings for what they are and track them.

One way to cope with warning signs day by day is to keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed; you can simply write down how you feel that day and review those comments as time goes on. Keep track of your mood and behavior and take notice of any recurring patterns. Others might make jokes about being self-absorbed, but the attention you give yourself can save your life. So much happens in college that we can start to drown in a continuous list of responsibilities. It’s important to remind ourselves to take a step back and realize the details of what’s happening.

It can be confusing to experience some of the common warning signs of mental illness. If possible, find a friend who has gone through a similar experience and who is willing to openly share what they went through. Friends who have experience with mental illness can be a great resource to confide in and ask questions. They may not have all the answers, since each experience is different, but they can help you cope or try to figure out if the possible warning signs are worth worrying about.

In some cases, these feelings can escalate to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. This is where the topic gets sensitive, but we need to get over that. These thoughts are real and affect many more people than are willing to share it with the world. Do not treat these heavy thoughts as though someone is faking or using them as an excuse. These feelings are real, the people are real and there are many resources waiting to be used by those with mental illnesses. If you or someone you know has thoughts of self-harm, it’s no longer something you can control on your own.

It’s vital to seek help way before mental health escalates to this point. Although it can be uncomfortable to talk to a therapist, they can provide further professional guidance when needed. Ignore the shame and embarrassment that is often associated with therapy. If it means getting the opportunity to live another day, take it.

 

Written by: Jolena Pacheco — mspacheco@ucdavis.edu

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