Living with mental illness

Struggling with depression and anxiety as a college student

“Did you know that there is a landmass of garbage that is twice as big as the United States?  I felt like a bigger piece of garbage than that.”

Those are the words of Keene State College junior Matthew Bergman as he described what it’s like on the worst days with his condition.

Looking at Bergman, there’s not much of a difference between him and any other KSC student. The film major has plenty of friends in his TKE fraternity, gets good grades and has all the responsibilities that any other student has.

There’s something going on in Bergman’s mind, however, that no one else can see at a mere glance.

Bergman suffers from depression and anxiety.

He’s not just sad or nervous either; there’s a chemical imbalance in his brain causing him to exacerbate bad feelings and go into panic without knowing when it’ll happen.

These reactions are caused by chemical imbalances as a result of genetic and environmental stressors.

Psychology professor Nashla Feres said that these disorders are a part of a person’s genetic make up.

“For depression or anxiety, there’s always going to be some kind of genetic or biological basis,” Feres said

According to Bergman, it has a real effect on him and his school work.

The effects on social and academic success aren’t just the result of the sadness and anxiety, but the byproducts of the condition as well.

Feres said that emotional disorders can lead to other neurological issues.

“ What we know that anxiety and depression do, is that they do affect your cognitive functions, so your memory is poorer, you can’t concentrate in class, you just can’t learn as well.  So it’s definitely related to [students’] success,” Feres said.

Bergman also said that while he does have a great support system and friends at the college he has not told the majority of his friends about his the extent anxiety and depression, but said he probably leaves signs of it by the way he sometimes behaves.

Bergman is one of many students dealing with these problems.

First-year student Brianna Neely also has depression and anxiety.  She said her condition often keeps her on guard.  “Some days with depression you just don’t want to move, you don’t want to get out of bed,” Neely said.  “The littlest things can set off the biggest emotional reactions.”

Neely said that her condition caused her to take a few years off after high school in order to get her it under control before she could come to KSC.

According to Feres, it is far more likely for students age 16-24 to be diagnosed to develop emotional disorders because of chemical changes in the brain as a result of puberty.

In short, high school and college age students.

Photo Illustration by Tim Smith / Photo Editor

Photo Illustration by Tim Smith / Photo Editor

According to a survey conducted by the American College Health Association in 2012, many of the students who come to KSC have had similar issues.

Of the over 1000 students surveyed, More than eleven percent of students reported that they had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety within in the last twelve months prior to taking the survey.

Furthermore, about thirty-three percent of students said they felt so depressed it was difficult to function.

Fifty-five percent said they felt overwhelming anxiety.

Close to eight percent said that they had intentionally hurt themselves. more than seven percent of students said they had contemplated suicide and nearly two percent had actually attempted suicide; All at some time within the last year prior to the survey.

In order to prevent occurrences like this mentioned above, those who have anxiety, depression and other disorders can be treated with regimented therapy and medication.   

Feres insisted on the importance of utilizing both medication and therapy in order for a student to learn how to better manage their disorder.

In comparison, the survey shows that only about three percent of students got treatment involving both medication and therapy within within 12 months prior

Feres said that finding a way to access those resources is where it can become difficult for students due to lack of insurance, willingness and availability.

“It can be very challenging for people,” Feres said.

If they’re looking for help coping with their disorder, students at KSC can turn to the Counseling Center, which is found in the Elliot Center on the KSC campus.

Assistant Director of the Counseling Center Mona Anderson commented on how important resources like this can be to students on campus.

“I think all people, throughout our lives, at different times in our lives where we are trying to figure things out and certainly in college there’s a lot of things that students are experiencing or struggling with or trying to figure out and we know that when our bodies are fed and our emotions are tended to, we’re going to be more successful. So in order to help our students be both successful academically and successful as human beings and people in the world, I think that the counseling center is essential for that,” Anderson said. “I think that some people would not be able to stay in college without this resource.”

Anderson also gave credit to the staff and faculty for their ability to  get students the help they need.

“In my experience, the staff and faculty here at Keene State are very supportive. Of course we can always do more educating around it, they’re not therapists, but they’re very supportive and they reach out to us to help the students,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that the counseling center offers workshops and trainings for those who work and go to school at KSC in order to create a better understanding of mental health disorders.

Some students are trying to do the same thing.

Phoebe Buckman is the secretary for the KSC chapter of Active Minds, a nationwide organization that strives to raise awareness for students who are dealing with a behavioral disorders.

Buckman noted the discussion panels and other events have been an effective tool in educating the student body on emotional disorders. She said that events such as the suicide vigils, which allow students to light a candle for every 100 college students who committed suicide nationwide, as well as for loved ones who took their own lives, were especially encouraging.

“We also get students who walk by and try to figure out what it is and then stay for the event,” She said, “I think that there is still of lot of work to do.”

On the bright side, Buckman said that the membership of the Active Minds chapter here on campus has doubled in the last year or so.

Neely, who is also a member of Active Minds, said that being a part of the organization has been very gratifying for her.

“it was a long time before someone really helped me, so to be able to actually help other people also is a very rewarding experience,” Neely said.

Buckman said that next year Active Minds will have a bigger role on campus.  The group has been preparing to put on programs in residence halls to teach students about behavioral disorders, and host more discussion panels and events.

Still, Keene State is just a small portion of the college student population nationwide. According to the Active Minds website, one in four adults suffer from some kind of mental illness.

Because it is so prevalent, Feres reiterated the importance of the efforts of the counseling center and Active Minds to reduce the stigma of being diagnosed with a behavioral disorder and be able to better understand those who dealt with them.

“It is something that students should be aware of and worried about.” Feres added, “Trying to get people to feel less ashamed about it is really important so they can go and seek the help that’s out there.”

Jacob Barrett can be contacted at

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