By Brandon Hadi
Northwest Asian Weekly
Take a deep breath. You’re about to embark on a journey of a lifetime — going to college.
Brimming with anticipation and excitement, prolonged by a long summer, you’re ready to take on the next chapter.
“Don’t forget to focus on school!” caution family and friends.
You’ve made it this far. You’ve made it to the University of Washington — an institution that offers a top tier education. You’ve survived the rigor of AP and IB courses, the SAT or ACT, and the grueling application process. You’re a scholar, an athlete, a rising star.
But you’re not here just to study. You’re here for the college experience — the roar of the crowd inside Husky Stadium, the uniqueness and diversity of student life, and most importantly, the self-discovery. You’re here for you, all of you, not just one part of it.
You may have already mapped out your first destinations, your first activities, your first quarter of classes. And that’s important — with a road map and some direction, you can expect to create a successful college experience.
Creating this incredible journey is a learning and growing process, one that involves knowing your resources and utilizing them effectively. You may have been told to decide your major early, to join student clubs and organizations, to build relationships with faculty.
But one key piece is missing, and it’s more important than the rest — your mental health.
“Take care of yourself,” advised many third- and fourth-year students. “There’s this equation out there that to be successful, students must be on top of everything — their schoolwork, knowing which major to pursue, getting into that major, knowing what to do with that major once they graduate, landing internships, having a large and illustrious social life.”
Balance is important.
“It’s okay to over-commit at first, so you can get an idea of what’s out there, but that’s temporary. Get rid of things you aren’t passionate about. Learn how to say no. Protect ‘you time’ with your life,” suggested a third-year student.
Sometimes, it really is as important as protecting your life.
Today, college students face an unprecedented amount of pressure from society, family, friends, and most of all, themselves. The pressure builds, the stress accumulates, and students should know that it’s natural to seek help.
Seek help … for what?
For not feeling like yourself.
More than 100,000 college students consult somebody about their mental health when they don’t “feel like themselves” each year. What does that actually look like? Some students report sleeping too much, or too little. Feeling moody or irritable, with little interest for old hobbies. They attend fewer classes and may have difficulty making new friends. They try other ways to adjust, through drugs, alcohol, sex. For a more complete list of signs, a link at the end of the article is provided.
How do I know if something’s wrong?
That’s the hard part, and it requires a degree of self-awareness. But know that you aren’t alone when you feel this way. A survey from Associated Press and mtvU found that 80 percent of college students frequently experience stress, 34 percent felt depressed in the last three months, 13 percent experience diagnosable anxiety or depression, and 9 percent have seriously considered suicide in the past year.
And yet, while feeling this way might be common, but many students have also expressed how their ability to cope with pressure, stress, and irregularities in their behavior or mood are lacking in comparison to their peers. One student employee noted, “I’ve worked with hundreds of students on campus, in the dorms, and in the advising office, and many of them have come up to me with concerns they thought too small to bring to the attention of professional staff. In reality, all of these students were expressing valid and significant concerns, but thought they were the only ones.”
It’s this perception of isolation that prevents students from taking action to improve their mental health.
For Asians and Pacific Islanders (APIs ), not “feeling like yourself” can also stem from being so far away from our homes, culture, people, language, and food. We may feel more pressure from our family to succeed than our peers do. We may be the first in our family to go to college, to leave home, and it can make us feel isolated and misunderstood.
“I had a hard time adjusting my first year because nobody seemed to be like me. I’m Japanese, Chamorro, and gay. I grew up in Guam, which has a very different culture from Washington. This difference makes it hard to navigate my identity on campus and in organizations that focus exclusively on Asian, Pacific Islander, or queer identity. Even though I have trouble navigating my identity here, I have found a community and a support system at the UW with the Micronesian Islands Club. I took the initiative to learn about how parts of my identity intersected by taking classes like Advanced Psychobiology of Women, where I was given the opportunity to conduct extensive study on how being a queer, male, and Pacific Islander coexisted,” opened up the director of UW’s Pacific Islander Student Commission (PISC).
We also have a tougher time reaching out for help when it comes to our mental health.
Stigma is especially strong in our communities, but many API students have found support through their friends, clubs, and an emerging movement on campus to promote API mental health and wellness.
An event in February hosted 150 students and community members, opening up the conversation about mental health. It was a powerful and refreshing space, empowering students to use their voice, share stories, and listen to others. Most importantly, students realized that by sharing, they were connecting with one another. They realized that they’re not alone in their feelings and experiences. They realized that sharing is healing.
Who can you share your story with?
“There’s a misleading narrative out there that the only person you can talk to about your mental health is a therapist. That’s what I thought when I first got here. But there are so many people you can talk to: your resident adviser in the dorms, academic adviser, TA, nurse, and more. The important part is finding someone you can trust, which may take some time, but is possible and will truly make a difference. Even if they’re not knowledgeable about how to best support you, they’ll be able to connect you with someone who can,” shared a former resident adviser.
So reach out, and start developing a support system. The goal is for you to connect with those who can aid and empower you, and oftentimes, opening up that system for someone else, too. Remember that you are in control, that you have a number of resources in the palm of your hand, and in order to make the most of this college experience, your Husky Experience, add mental health to your college success manual.
Brandon can be reached at email@example.com.
24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
24-Hour Crisis Call Line: 866-427-4747
24-Hour Crisis Text Line: Text “GO” to 741741
24-Hour WA Recovery Help Line: 866-789-1511
King County Crisis Line (M-F 8 a.m.–6 p.m.): 2-1-1 or 206-461-3200
Teen-Link (6–10 p.m.): 866-833-6546
Trevor Lifeline: 866-488-7386
Trevor Text: 1-202-304-1200
Hall Health Mental Health Clinic
Health and Wellness
UW Medical Center (Roosevelt)
Community Resources (Culturally-Competent, Long-Term Care)
Asian Counseling & Referral Services
International Community Health Services