Those who face mental health issues or struggles are not confined to any age demographic. Wanting to highlight this exact truth, I was able to talk to three professors here at BU that were willing to share their own personal mental health struggles. We might think that the professors that teach our classes cannot sympathize with us, cannot understand the pressures of college and social life. However, our many professors were once like us, college students. And like us, they were once overwhelmed with the pressures of the college experience.
Dr. Kracher, who specializes in communication, was studying for her Ph.D. in communication studies when she developed anxiety. For Dr. Kracher it was the pressure of graduate school, “life things,” and being on her own which cumulated into an issue. It was a competitive field of study. Dr. Kracher developed panic attacks that would hinder her breathing, it became a health problem. She sought out a therapist and began talking to friends about the pressures of college and how it affected her mental health negatively. It was the act of talking to her peers and having her feelings/emotions validated that had the biggest impact.
Dr. Kracher personally struggles during times of important decision making or during transition periods. With the help of her therapist, she is now able to identify triggers and prevent herself from falling into that dark whole again. Dr. Kracher says it is important to have an “intervention before the dark times.” Being able to identify what one’s triggers are and how to recognize them is where mental health begins. “Self-retrospection,” admitting when you are struggling, is a preemptive action that can be taken to avoid a mental health crisis and according to Dr. Kracher this is what mental health looks like.
Dr. Kracher says there are two forms of stress that humans experience. Eustress is the “good” form of stress it motivates you to do things, to finish that writing assignment or project. Destress is the “bad” form of stress that inhibits you to do things, it can even be crippling. Realizing what type of stress, you are experiencing is vital in keeping good mental health.
Dr. Kracher believes that mental health should be treated as your physical health. Seeing a therapist like you see a doctor should be normalized. Asking yourself how you are doing and checking in on yourself is vital in preventing a crisis and is something you owe to yourself. Dr. Kracher mentioned that she teaches a one credit course on mental health communications which teaches students how to recognize their own mental health triggers. Dr. Kracher is also offering a course on stress and copying next semester.
Dr. Bauman, the program coordinator for educational leadership and college affairs, teaches graduate level courses and the first thing he establishes is a space for his students where they are able to “authentically feel comfortable.” Dr. Bauman wants to provide more than mere “lip service” and tries to create such an atmosphere early on. Last fall, with COVID-19 making the phrase “burnout” so visible, Dr. Bauman dedicated class time to focus on the issue. And he plans to dedicate an entire class period to “burnout” next semester. Although, Dr. Bauman says he himself has never faced a mental health crisis or struggled with mental health he fully understands the demanding lifestyle of his college students.
To Dr. Bauman mental health is “prioritizing your own needs.” It is “easy to fill up your plate” during college with schoolwork, clubs, social events, and work but when this happens important things began to fall off your plate. You have to “carve out time for yourself which is essential to self-care. Don’t full up your plate without thinking about your own personal needs.
The advice Dr. Bauman gives to students is to “take the long game.” Start assignments early on, plan for midterms at the beginning of the semester. Managing your time is very important when in college and for every period in your life. Yet, failing to manage your time only “creates more stress in the end…” which in turn can negatively affect your mental health.
Dr. Benefiel, specializing in criminal justice, struggled with self-doubt as an undergraduate student. He lacked self confidence and his own self-doubt impacted him greatly. Dr. Benefiel dropped out of college as an undergraduate senior. He was facing a lot of pressure and was doubting his future and his capability to plan for it. Dr. Benefiel says it was the pressure to make those life changing decisions that he doubted, and it was pressure from his parents as well. At the time he didn’t know how to answer the all too typical questions asked of a college senior: how will you pay off your student loans, how much will you earn once graduated, what will your future career be, what are you going to do with your life? Dr. Benefiel also mentions that as a college student you are expected to act like an adult, live like an adult, and be an adult, but we are all “learning as we go.”
It was twenty years later when Dr. Benefiel returned to finish his undergraduate degree, after serving in the Marine Core, getting married, and working at a federal prison. He was finally able to overcome his struggle with self-doubt. Once he finished his graduate degree, he went on to complete his graduate studies and earn a Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Dr. Benefiel says he regrets his decision of dropping out of college but at the time he was struggling and didn’t have any avenues where he could share or vent his struggles. Some self-doubt is “part of the experience of being at college,” explains Dr. Benefiel. Everyone has self-doubts. Yet, when that self-doubt infers with your life it becomes a problem.
Dr. Benefiel maintains that college is more than just preparing for a future career it is about “gaining life skills” as well. Some students know exactly what they want to accomplish in life and have a clear picture as to what their goal is. However, others do not. Other students don’t know what exactly they want from their future and that is okay. Dr. Benefiel says we compare ourselves to those that have a clear plan for the future. Comparing ourselves or trying to accomplish other people’s goals is not effective for yourself in the long-term.
If you are lucky enough to have a clear plan for the future, keep an open mind. Dr. Benefiel says keeping an open mind to other opportunities and career paths are important because sometimes things happen in life that disrupt our plans. Have a plan B. Don’t confine yourself to a single career, you might have to take a few different paths to get where you want to go. Don’t deny yourself from taking those different paths for they might lead you somewhere else that is better.
It wasn’t until I started college did, I really understand anxiety or stress. It wasn’t until I started college did, I really struggle with my mental health. Personally, I have experienced panic attacks and self-doubts. I have questioned my own academic decisions. I have even thought about dropping out, these thoughts began last semester. I was stressed with my schoolwork and my social obligations. I believed if I dropped out of college it would all go away. I felt as if no one was able to understand what I was feeling at that moment.
Being able to sit and listen to these three professors was very reassuring in the sense that I was never really alone. I wasn’t the only one that experienced anxiety while in the classroom awaiting the next assignment. I wasn’t the only one that experienced “burnout” from classes. And I wasn’t the only one that was self-doubting my future. Our professors that teach our classes struggle too. They share our struggles and they have experienced what we have while at college. This should only be reassuring. One day we will graduate and look back with pride what we were able to overcome.