The Bumpy, Gravel Road of Mental Illness

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For many students, living with a mental illness can be a cause for hopelessness, but students living in the Fargo-Moorhead area have adopted the presence of their mental illness as a challenge issued by life they must rise to face.

Studies have found that 26 percent of Americans 18 and older live with a diagnosable mental illness, and for half of them, it started at the age of 14.

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Mental illness has a lot of ups and downs with bumps along the way.

MSUM student Abby Reitan described living with a mental illness as “like driving on a gravel road; on some days you are able to enjoy the scenery and the bumpy ride for what it is, and on others you are terrified that the car is going too fast and you may end up in a ditch.”

For many students like Reitan, they must be prepared to cope with their mental illness when they end up in the “ditch” as she described. This challenge of staying in control, so to speak, can be a difficult one in cases where classes may require a presentation in front of the class, which can spark feelings of anxiety.

NDSU student Chelsea Cleveland discussed some of the challenges of being a student with anxiety that can make some tasks difficult, such as making friends and creating relationships with her professors or asking for help when needed. However, Cleveland explained that NDSU has been more accommodating to her needs than other organizations she has encountered.

“We are very fortunate to have disability services at our school,” Cleveland said. She noted that her professors have often been able to work around her anxiety while still allowing her to receive the education she needs to prepare herself for a future career.

Alongside Disability Services, NDSU Counseling Center provides several workshops, classes and personal counseling services to NDSU students, including a three week anxiety toolbox workshop that focuses on developing skills and methods to cope with anxiety.

The Counseling Center’s web page also includes several links for self-help that students can browse from the comfort of their own laptop with additional information on anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

When asked about advice for other students with mental illness, Reitan explained that having supportive friends who are able to validate her experience is important to her.

According to Reitan, “The one thing that helps me tremendously is people telling me things even though I may have heard it a million times. I find that it is something I need to hear.”

Reitan also said having a supportive network of friends is essential in her experience with anxiety and depression because it is “a vicious and self-destructive cycle that I put myself through monthly.”

Overall, Cleveland and Reitan agree that often, living with mental illness includes forcing yourself to do things even when you have little to no energy or motivation, and that by doing so, it can be rewarding in the end.

At the end of the day, mental illness isn’t an excuse, but rather something you tackle day after day and survive, and surviving is the greatest accomplishment of all.

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