Every person copes with mental illness in a different way.
For Camille Hanson, writing sonnets and practicing mindful meditation helps improve her mood. For Talitha Davis, it’s different forms of art — sculptures and painting.
Katy Johnson, mental health coordinator for Vandal Health Education, said there are many resources and activities at the University of Idaho for people to process their emotions.
“Everybody has different things that help them, and it’s really important to just focus on what makes you happy and calm,” Johnson said. “What kind of gives you some time to reflect and kind of clear your head and that’s what works for you. It’s completely different for everybody.”
Camille Hanson’s cat saved her life.
The house was empty and quiet as she began taping the video her family and friends would find after she was gone. Hanson was prepared to take her life, until a familiar sound cut through the air. A gentle “meow” chimed over and over again until she couldn’t stand it. She swooped up her cat and went outside.
Taking in the fresh air and stroking her cat’s fur, Hanson realized this wasn’t the way she wanted her life to end.
Her cat saved her life.
Hanson’s struggle with depression began when she was in the seventh grade and lasted through high school.
“It’s like walking down a tunnel and all you can see is the end of the tunnel,” Hanson said. “It’s like a straight tunnel and there’s branches off the side, but your focus is so narrow that all you can see is the black at the end and you can’t get out of that mode of thinking.”
Coming from a family where she was exposed to mental illness at a young age, Hanson said she never fully understood her emotions.
Now in her second year at UI, Hanson said she’s in a better place. She can identify ways to escape that depressive mode of thinking, locate the reasons why she feels a certain way and find ways to change it.
Hanson isn’t alone. She is one of the millions of Americans who suffer from depression.
She said it was hard for her to speak out about her feelings because she didn’t think they were that bad, due in part to the strong stigma about mental illness in the U.S. She said it was difficult to explain her experience to individuals who weren’t also struggling with a mental illness.
“Even when I was thinking about killing myself, it still never occurred to me that I should say something,” Hanson said.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance said, despite its high treatment success rate, nearly two out of three people suffering with depression do not actively seek proper treatment.
Hanson said it wasn’t until her first year of college that she realized it was time for her to receive help. That’s when she contacted the Counseling and Testing Center (CTC) on campus.
Hanson said the CTC helped validate her feelings, while also comforting her and helping her realize she wasn’t alone in the world.
“It just had a tremendous impact on how I thought about myself, how I thought about the world,” Hanson said. “It completely changed how I thought about everything.”
Hanson looks back on her life and said she wouldn’t be the woman she is today if she didn’t go through the struggles she did.
Beyond that, she said the most important part of talking about depression is to help people realize they can speak out and there is always someone to talk to.
Talitha Davis’ best friend saved her life. Davis was not planning to attempt suicide. Like any other day, she stepped into the steaming shower and cut into her wrists. The pain was a release. Soon, she wasn’t just cutting her wrists, but her thighs as well. Streams of blood ran down her arms and legs, the water deepening to a darker red. It was like an addiction, and she couldn’t stop. She hopped out of the showe, still bleeding, when her phone began to ring. Her friend’s voice was calm as he said, “I just felt something was wrong, are you OK?” Her best friend saved her life. Davis is a third-year student at UI struggling with depression and anxiety, both of which impact her everyday life.
Growing up, Davis said she never felt as though she fit in. Much of her depression stemmed from impactful childhood events. “I would usually stay hidden away during recess or during lunch hour. I would literally finish lunch, I would go outside and I would hide in this little corner against this brick wall and curl up into a ball,” Davis said.
The struggles she faced throughout her entire life weighed on her. Davis said on dreadful days, she would self-harm to feel more alive.
However, Davis said the real start of her depression began during her first year of college, when she found out she was pregnant in the midst of an abusive relationship. Weeks after discovering she was pregnant, Davis found out her baby was terminal.
“I have been going to therapy a lot since then, because he only lived two days, which was amazing. But that’s definitely — that whole experience from my first year of college has hugely affected me both in wonderful ways and pretty horrible ways,” Davis said.
College provided Davis with a different atmosphere where she could finally feel a sense of belonging. But even with so many friends, Davis said she still has days where she wakes up feeling depressed, despite having everything she could want.
Downward spirals are a common element of depression that affect everything a person does. Davis said all it took for her to slip into one of those spirals was a simple doubtful or negative thought.Therapy helped. Although she continues to struggle with anxiety and depression, Davis said attending therapy sessions and having someone to talk to has made a huge difference in her life.
A frequent visitor to the CTC, Davis said she obtained a great deal of happiness from talking with her therapist. “My therapist here at the UI has helped me find really good balance in my life and really practice on reframing my thoughts,” Davis said. Both Davis and Hanson said they wouldn’t change the past because it helped to shape them into who they are today. “I’m really grateful for my past,” Davis said. “I wish I could have learned the things that I did learn in a different way, but I’m glad I went through them and I’m glad that I learned them.”With help from her family, friends and therapist, Davis said she now recognizes her life as one worth living.
THE CTC AND SUICIDE PREVENTION
Whether it be counseling services or suicide prevention tactics, the university provides a wide variety of different resources for students in need of support. One of the main resources on campus that strives to help others is the CTC.
Sharon Fritz, a licensed psychologist at the CTC, said providing students with free and confidential counseling and testing resources is the primary purpose of the center. “Somebody who comes in, they can call in or walk in and say they need to see somebody right now, we will meet with them, talk with them about what’s going on, brainstorm, problem-solve and schedule them with another appointment,” Fritz said.
The CTC is open from Monday through Friday, and Fritz said they also offer after-hour services. If a student needs services outside of usual times, the CTC extends their regular hours with a crisis hotline. Along with counseling, the CTC provides mental health screenings.
The screenings include topics such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
Fritz said the stigma around mental illness may prevent students from seeking the help they need, and it’s important for society to understand what it means to have a mental health issue.
Every case is different, and Fritz said if a person suspects a friend needs to visit the CTC and the friend is hesitant, offering to walk with them to their appointment can help. From diagnosis, to treatment and recovery, Johnson said that mental illnesses can be curable.“(Mental illness) is nothing to be ashamed of,” Johnson said.
Counseling might not be for everyone, and Johnson recognizes that. She said there are acts of self-care that can be beneficial. Activities such as exercising, participating in school clubs or creating support groups can guide people in the right direction.
The university also has several programs and trainings in place to inform students and faculty on what to do if they are concerned about another students’ mental health and what they can do to report that concern. Johnson said the university works hard to prevent suicide by providing students and faculty with the opportunity to work through trainings that focus on these topics. One hour-long training focuses specifically on suicide prevention. Johnson said this training teaches individuals how to be gatekeepers and to recognize the signs of suicide.
Along with the suicide gatekeeper training, Johnson said UI has an eight-hour training covering all mental health topics, including both suicide and depression.
Through the CTC’s website, Johnson said students, faculty and staff are welcome to sign up for any of the programs.Their main goal is to help students deal with non-academic issues. Fritz said the CTC strives to provide students with help and care whenever they need it.“If you struggle with a mental illness, there is treatment and there is support,” Fritz said.
90 percent of people who die from suicide struggle with a mental illness Suicide warning signs:-Talking about wanting to die or kill yourself -Talking about feeling hopeless-Increased use of drugs or alcohol-Talking about feeling alone of trapped-Sleeping too little or too much-Extreme mood swingsNational Suicide prevention hotline number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)Crisis hotline number for CTC: 208-885-6716