Soapbox: Reality check — mental illness doesn’t make you unique



About 29 percent of Americans will suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and more than 20 percent will suffer from a mood disorder.

In case you’re bad at math, that’s millions of people.

In addition, over half of those who suffer from a disorder from one category will also suffer from a disorder from the other; anxiety and depression are the world’s worst tag team. As another bonus, the majority of this piece’s readers are in the age range (18-25) where major depressive disorder is most prevalent.

On the bright side, mental illnesses are often triggered by major life changes and the stress that accompanies those changes, and, as college students, our lives never change. Never.

If you prefer anecdotal evidence to statistics because you don’t understand how quality information works, I also have my own experience as an example.

After a childhood and adolescence dotted with occasional “blue” moments (as I took to calling them), I spent most of my sophomore year of college bluer than a smurf crip.

For a while, I told myself there was no good reason I should be depressed, since I’ve faced about as much adversity in my life as a straight, white, Midwestern, middle class male would expect to.

When that didn’t work, I told myself that I wasn’t going to become one of the masses of placated pill-poppers, because, even if my feelings were awful, at least they were real.

Both of these approaches were stupid.

My external circumstances were irrelevant. My sad-guy brain was going to spin whatever situation it was given into the negativity it craved.

The concept of “realness” is nonsense as well, as the entire point of treatment is to return a person to the state of normalcy their illness has dragged them away from.

Potential solutions like counseling and antidepressants, when effective, don’t provide rose-colored glasses so much as remove a pair of dark, cloudy shades. And besides all that, avoiding an accessible solution that would make one’s own life and the lives of those close to them better based on some half-baked principle is some truly self-indulgent garbage.

So, after some pushing, I consulted a counselor through Sioux Falls Psychological Services (an option available to all Augustana students) and made a doctor’s appointment where I was prescribed some medication. Now, more than a year later, my illness has become so manageable I’m starting to think I may be out of the woods entirely.

So, mental illness doesn’t make you special. I would know, because I’m not special. I’m just a dude.

Among all the minutiae that make up a person, mental illness isn’t special. I have depression, but I also have a variety of talents and beliefs and a weird obsession with podcasts and lots of student loan debt and great hair.

I didn’t want to open up on this in such a public manner to seek attention or to save money on a therapist. I just know that there’s a lot of stigma regarding mental illness, and that that stigma, in conjunction with the symptoms of an illness, can lead one into a really isolated mindset.

I think that’s unhealthy, or at least I know it didn’t help me, so I wanted to make it abundantly clear to anyone struggling with their uncooperative brain that they’re not the only one, on Earth or on campus.

When I say mental illness doesn’t make you special, I don’t mean to be dismissive or imply that people should just get over themselves.

Rather, I hope that the knowledge that millions of other people—normal people, happy people, even wildly successful people like Beyoncé and me and Tipper Gore—have gone through or are going through something similar can make the awfulness of an illness less abstract and less scary.

The only way to overcome a stigma is to confront it with honest openness, discomfort be damned.

Mental illnesses are hugely common and largely treatable. If you’re suffering yourself, you need to know that there are steps you can take to feel better and that there’s ample, inexpensive support—through online groups, Augustana’s free professional counseling and services like Sioux Falls HelpLine—for when you don’t.

You haven’t done anything wrong; you just got unlucky. And, despite what your brain and societal silence might tell you, you still deserve a chance to be happy.


Sam Williams is an English, business and economics major from Watertown, S.D.

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