Here are Their Faces: Mental Health at Dordt

Lauren Hoekstra — Staff Writer

Mental health and the issues that go along with it have been an increasing problem since the 1990s, especially among people born between the early 1980s and early 2000s — also known as Millennials and Generation Z.

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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in America live with a mental illness and nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) live with a serious mental illness. According to NAMI Iowa, about 600,000 Iowans (amounting to about 1 in 5) live with some sort of mental illness and about 37,000 grapple with a serious mental illness daily.

Mental health is much the same on college campuses. According to the most recent American College Health Association survey, approximately 13% of students reported having symptoms of anxiety, and more than 18% reported depressive symptoms. Almost 15% had received a diagnosis of depression at some time in their lives. 33% acknowledged stress-related problems; 43% said they felt so depressed at some point in the academic year that it was difficult to function; 10% had seriously considered suicide; and 1.9% had attempted suicide.

However, it is difficult to put these statistics to faces of people that we know. Mental health is a taboo in Northwest Iowa, and many people live their whole lives with undiagnosed mental conditions. Despite the stigma, some students came forward to discuss their own problems and help the community understand what it is like to live with a mental health condition.

Brianna Miedema, a sophomore from Sioux Center, IA, has been experiencing mental health problems since middle school.

“I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety,” she said. “At one point, they talked about borderline personality disorder and I’ve had some people confirm that and some people deny it so I don’t really know. Also, suicidal thoughts. If that counts.”

Over time, she said, it has gotten better. But sometimes, “I will still slip into times where I feel that I’m back in square one. Sometimes situational events or forgetting my meds can affect me too.”

Despite the fact that people here try to understand, Miedema commented that she has faced some people who simply say the wrong thing that doesn’t help the situation.

“Sometimes people view mental health as something that you aren’t trying hard enough to fix. A lot of the time when people are trying to help, like when I’m dealing with bad anxiety, they tell me to not worry and it’s all fine. Depression is a lot more than just sadness in your head.”

Another sophomore, Caleb Schreurs of Sheldon, IA, has also felt the effects of many different disorders.

“I have ADD, clinical depression, clinical anxiety, and oppositional defiance disorder, or ODD. I don’t sleep. I hope to get five hours a night. Last night I got three. I’m on heavy Ambien, which is a sleep medicine. Sometimes I wake up and my thoughts are going a thousand miles a minute,” Schreurs said. “Though [mental health] may be something that people call a dysfunction or disorder, people aren’t the sum of their disorder or their mental illness. Just like you look at someone’s broken leg and don’t attribute that to them, people aren’t just mentally ill. It’s not a personality trait.”

Holly Tanis, a sophomore from Cawker City, KA, was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and a depressive disorder.

“It has definitely gotten harder to deal with in college because there is a lot more that you have to take care of,” Tanis said. “One of the things that comes to mind is this quote from John Mulaney, ‘I also don’t want to be doing what I’m doing.’ We are well aware that our actions are completely unreasonable but we don’t know how to change it, we’re kinda stuck in this cycle.”

Senior Andrea Wright, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, had a different experience from other students dealing with mental illness.

“I went to counseling once and she told me that I had too many tendencies to be specific but I just fell on the eating disorder spectrum,” Wright said. “I specifically remember being a cheerleader in high school and having a lot of it stem from that – being in front of people and that atmosphere was a lot of pressure.”

Although the communication and honesty about mental health is improving, Wright feels that talking about eating disorders is not as encouraged.

“[I don’t have the] support system of people who are in the same boat,” Wright said.

Although the majority of vocal voices on campus belong to students, several professors are honest and transparent about their mental health problems as well. Professor Walker Cosgrove is honest about his struggles with mental health.

“Every semester, I have half a dozen to a dozen students in my office weeping and overwhelmed,” Cosgrove said.

When asked about his diagnosis, Cosgrove asked, “Can a therapist diagnose? If so, a mild depression. I never went to a psychiatrist or doctor though,” he said. “My experiences line up with how a lot of people go through [depression].”

During college, Cosgrove made use of the free counseling at his school. “I’m not sure how long I went. A semester? A year?” he said. “It was very helpful for me to be able to name [those feelings] and develop coping mechanisms and techniques.  Don’t do it alone. Seek help: friends, therapy, every person is different. Be aware that it is a process and a journey. There is no magic bullet. Give therapy a chance. Over the long haul, it helps.”

When someone is able to name what they are feeling, it no longer feels like a “really thick fog,” according to Cosgrove.

“Mental health issues aren’t something to be ashamed about,” Miedema said. “Because our community doesn’t talk about it much, people feel like it’s something that they can’t talk about. Or will be judged for because people don’t understand. It’s beneficial not only for you, but also for others.”

There are so many resources that are available to students to help them from getting lost in the “thick fog” of life. Dordt’s Student Health & Counseling Center offers eight free and confidential sessions by licensed counselors.

This may be helpful for those experiencing relationship difficulties, anxiety, loss or grief, depression, anger, difficulting adjusting to college, problems with eating, panic attacks, family or social problems, homesickness and any other problems.

To get in touch with Dordt’s counselors and schedule an appointment, students can email counseling@dordt.edu or call 712-722-6990.

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