The transition into college is rarely a quick and easy one to make. You go from the comfort of your hometown and people you’ve known for years to a very different environment full of strangers and new things to explore. It’s difficult to find a new group of friends, or a place that feels comfortable for you to express yourself. Even if you stay close to home, as I did, it’s still a huge difference from the daily routine you mastered in high school. Because of this transition, many people struggle with mental health issues that may have not been present before.
Though I had experienced some issues with anxiety and depression in the past, nothing could have prepared me for the storm of emotions that was brewing and coming my way.
As always, I was anxious during the first week of classes and feeling overwhelmed with all of the work I was going to be expected to complete over the semester. Had it not been for the support from my mom, I still think I may have dropped out that week and let the anxiety win. She kept a firm hand on my shoulder and led me through the next few weeks. All the while, I tried to hold my head high, maintain my composure, and make daily life as bearable as possible.
About two months into my first semester, I lost that sense of composure and felt my world crumbling down on top of me. Terrified about what may come next, I confronted my mom and told her that for the first time, I was considering ending my own life. As someone who has lost her father and 14-year-old brother to suicide, this was the hardest thing that I have ever had to admit. Saying those words out loud made everything so real, and it petrified both my mother and me. After many tears and hours in hospital waiting rooms, it was decided that I was stable enough to attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) rather than being hospitalized in an inpatient program.
A month later, I was finished with the program and feeling considerably better. I had a much more positive outlook on life, and was working hard to find happiness within myself. The only thing that I was still struggling with, was finding that place on campus that felt safe and comfortable. Early in my spring semester, I discovered Active Minds and found exactly what I had been looking for. Not only did their mission align with many of my personal interests, but the people were inviting and always offered support when needed. It was, by no means, a replacement for therapy, but it gave me a place to express my thoughts and feelings where it seemed that people genuinely cared.
Towards the end of the semester, elections were approaching and nobody was interested in being the President of our chapter on campus. Mostly as a joke, since I was still new to the organization, I offered to run. Though I ended up running against someone who probably knew more about the organization, I was elected president! I was fortunate enough to hold that office for both my sophomore and junior year, stepping down before my senior year to give someone else a chance, and to focus on preparing for graduation.
During my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to attend the Active Minds National Mental Health on Campus Conference at Georgetown University. That weekend is when I really fell in love with Active Minds and all the work that it does. I met some incredible people, heard heart-wrenching stories, and connected with strangers on a level that I have yet to achieve with some personal friends. I felt like I was finally in a place where my voice could be heard and nobody would turn away for fear of upsetting my fragile heart. People genuinely wanted to hear my story and share theirs in return.
While attending the conference this past year in Irvine, California, I heard about the Active Minds Internship Program. In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do. CORRECTION: I didn’t want to, I HAD to. I worked hard to piece together my resume and cover letter to make it as appealing as possible, so they had no choice but to hire me as a summer intern. About two months before my graduation, I got the email I had been waiting for- I GOT THE INTERNSHIP! I was absolutely thrilled and quickly began thinking about what I needed to accomplish before I left in May. I graduated the first weekend in May and began counting down the days until I would move to DC and start working for my favorite organization.
From my very first day, the entire staff welcomed me with open arms. I never felt like a lame little intern, while everyone else was a real staff member. Everyone is treated with respect and the office environment is very friendly, making it easy to ask questions. It may only be my third week here, but I already feel like I have found a second family in the Active Minds community.
Had I not discovered Active Minds during my freshman year, I may have never found that sense of belonging. Maybe I would have joined a different club or organization on campus, but I don’t think any of them could have aligned with my interests nearly as well. It may sound cliché, but I honestly believe that Active Minds has, and will continue to, change my life.