By BRIANNA KWASNIK
Depression: a seemingly ugly ten-letter word that bears a lot of weight, both on the sufferer and their support systems.
Depression: a disease just as debilitating as any physical illness, often just as terminal, and just as painful (if not more). The major difference? It’s a topic too often swept under the rug and locked into a taboo chest, simply because one can’t always bear witness to its physical signs and scars until it presents dire consequences.
According to the World Health Organization, major depression carries the heaviest burden of disability among mental and behavioral disorders.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year. In 2014,15.7 million adults aged 18 and older experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was eight years old, a time when my only significant care in the world was supposed to be deciding whether I wanted Doritos or Dunkaroos, or if I was feeling ambitious enough, both. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by supportive friends and family, involved in sports teams and extracurriculars after school — however, I couldn’t figure out why I preferred to be alone on the weekends, opting to turn in early for the night, or why I sought solace in my journal.
For me, an official diagnosis felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. While my sadness might not have had a discernable reason, at least it had a name. A name for me confirmed that I wasn’t alone.
Having being diagnosed so young, my family and I opted to try whatever natural remedies were available rather than relying on medication. I’ve tried yoga, meditation and mindfulness of every variety, workout routines, clean eating regimens, teas, journaling and talk therapy. You name it, I’ve tried it. Over the years, I’ve gathered coping techniques to pack away in my toolbox that help me cope when my depression resurfaces.
Going away to college, I had imagined new opportunities to make new friends, ways to advance in my career, and experience things that I never got to while living in New York — I was in a new city and a new state. Just a few weeks after turning 18, I had imagined a semester away from living under my parents rules as a new found liberation: no curfew, eating what I wanted, when I wanted, signing up for the classes I wanted, and going out with whoever I wanted.
When I made these plans, I never imagined that depression would be coming along with me.
My bags were packed and somehow the demons that lived in my head managed to slip into my overflowing suitcase, only to later unpack themselves and catch me off-guard during my second semester on my own.
I slowly fell back into the traps of depression; I started oversleeping, lost my appetite and concentration and suddenly had a lack of motivation and interest in the things that I used to enjoy, like writing and going out with friends. It took all of my energy to pull myself out of bed and to class each day. I was secretly hoping my professors would take notice and have sympathy for the fact that I was trying the absolute best that I could, even if I had to miss a day here or hand in a late assignment there. At least I got out of bed. I showed up.
I was grateful to find out that the Dickey Health and Wellness Center on campus offered therapy. However, I ran to each appointment like I was on a James Bond mission. At the time, I incessantly hoped that no one would recognize me or find out what I was really there for. I felt alone in my struggle and was completely blind to the fact that a good majority of my friends had been through or knew someone who had gone through a similar situation at some point in their lives. However, once I opened up and talked about it, I found out the truth: we are all in this fight together, taking it one day at a time. We are all away from home, uncomfortable and adjusting to the uncertainties of what the future holds — but we don’t have to do it alone.
This semester, I’d like to serve as the friend that I never had the courage to seek out. If you’ve ever had a question regarding mental health, resources in the area, or anything of the sort that you never got the chance to ask, first know that you are not alone and that there are resources available to help you both on campus and in the community. Throughout the semester, you can anonymously submit questions to ask.fm/MinaretMentalHealth, and I will do my due diligence in reaching out to area professionals to get the necessary information needed to get your questions answered.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can file an anonymous Student of Concern form at ut.edu/studentofconcern, or for more immediate assistance in a crisis situation, contact the Suicide & Crisis Hotline for Hillsborough County at (813) 234-1234.
Brianna Kwasnik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org