Prior to college, I was never taught the importance of maintaining and understanding mental health. Being from an African American community, the topic of mental health/illness is deemed taboo and constantly swept under the rug. Within the Black community, it is an unspoken rule to simply not speak about it.
There are perceptions that mental health/illness is “just a phase,” and “it is not real,” and you are labeled as weak for expressing them. However, it was not until I stepped foot onto my college campus that I realized and understood the powers and effects of mental health/illness.
Throughout my matriculation, I have been exposed to the various aspects of mental health. My sophomore year, I joined an organization entitled C.H.I.L.L. which is an acronym for Counseling Humans In Life Lessons. This is a student lead organization that is centered around mental health advocacy. Here, I serve as a certified peer counselor for the students at Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University. Through various peer counseling training, I have learned how to identify and help individuals who suffer from illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
As a peer counselor, I serve as a direct line of communication for my peers. It is my duty to provide and create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable talking to me. I offer them a space where they are free to express themselves by actively listening, making a judgment-free zone, and rendering advice only when asked.
As a peer counselor, there are 3 things I stress to my peers:
It Is Okay Not To Be Okay
You do not have to be a superwoman all of the time. It is perfectly fine to be emotional and need help. Do not try to bottle up all of your emotions because that will only cause more problems to arise.
If you need help unpacking what you are going through, ask. You cannot tackle everything by yourself. Sometimes you need to talk to someone else. There is someone there to help you whether the storm.
Find a Person You Trust
In the midst of what you are going through you may feel as though you are alone and no one understands. I can assure you, that is not the case. Find someone who you feel comfortable talking to. This person may be a trusted friend, a co-worker, or relative. Ensure it is someone you feel completely comfortable divulging personal information to.
Look for organizations on campus that are geared toward mental health advocacy. Often, these are organizations are student-led. If you do not have a person you feel comfortable talking with, try utilizing the counseling centers on your college campus. These professionals are there to help guide you through whatever you are feeling or going through. The services in these offices are completely confidential so do not worry about your information being told to others.
Apart of maintaining and managing your mental health is being in-tune with yourself. Often we get so consumed in our everyday lives we forget to take time to care for ourselves. Self-care is about understanding your limitations and engaging in activities that are fulfilling, engaging, and make you happy.
Take a day out of each week where you cater to yourself and decompress from the week you had. Do not worry about the tasks you have to complete or anything else. Use this time to engage in activities that you enjoy. Whether it is getting your hair done, working out, sleeping, or binge-watching your favorite TV series take a day out of each week to do that.
Remember you are not alone. If you or someone you know needs help, utilize the hotline numbers below. These hotlines are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week and are completely confidential.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 1-800-950-6264
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Substance Abuse Hotline: 1-800-662-4357
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233
Morgan Howell is a junior English major, Sociology minor at Spelman College. After graduation in May 2020, she plans to work as a community organizer to combat injustices against children. Currently, she serves as a Child Defender Fellow for the Children’s Defense Fund. Her ultimate goal is to start a nonprofit organization aiming to provide an array of services to underprivileged children and families.