Tag Archives: Higher Education

Let’s Talk About Anxiety: My thoughts on why we should stop hiding from conversations about mental health in Student Affairs

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you would know that it’s not fun. Ever. Panic attacks come in different forms for different things. For me personally, my panic attacks range from experiencing what I call a “perpetual brain fog” that numbs all emotion and causes me to forget a lot of things that are said to me in the moment to having a full “meltdown-esque” panic attack where I start hyperventilating and crying. It differs for all of us who live every day with anxiety.

In student affairs, we often find the need to bury personal mental health concerns because there has been the consistent belief that by having anxiety or depression, along with many other mental health conditions, we are weak and cannot help others. The same goes with introversion and extroversion. I wish I had a dollar for the number of times that someone has told me that “[I] don’t act like an introvert.” Just because I recharge by being alone does not mean that I can’t be the energetic, charismatic, and quirky leader my students need. It does not mean that I’m a socially awkward recluse, which essentially has unfortunately been the consistent perception of introverts throughout the years.

Why is it that these perceptions exist? Don’t get me wrong, the negative stigma around mental health has been slowly decreasing throughout the years, but there is still that awkwardness that comes from a conversation about mental health. Why can’t we talk about anxiety and depression like we talk about a diabetes or celiac disease? They are all things that affect our overall health and well-being. They do not define us, but surely they are a part of who we are. It also becomes frustrating when people try to tiptoe around those of us with depression and anxiety. Yes, we need to be supported as coworkers, relatives, partners, and human beings in general, but we don’t need to be coddled. For many of us, we know what our support looks like and we will ask for it when it is needed. Personally, I simply say that I need to get off-campus or leave the room when I am having a panic attack and many people respect that. That doesn’t mean that I need to walk away every single time that a conflict or stressful situation arises.

At this point, you may be asking what I’m getting at with this post. I simply ask you to reflect on how you can be open about anxiety and depression in student affairs or conversations in general. Maybe that means something simple, like having a program or doing a mental health bulletin board. For me, I have personally disclosed my depression and anxiety with a few students who have disclosed it to me. The point of the conversation was not to simply undermine their concern or to talk about myself. It was simply a gesture of solidarity. A moment to let them know that mental health is something we can talk about here and that their condition is not something to be embarrassed of because a lot of us struggle with it. It was an opportunity to give them a safe space.

I also ask you to reflect on how you can support your partners, coworkers, and family members who struggle with depression and anxiety. Simply ask them how they want to be supported. Don’t coddle them or assume that you need to text them every 5 minutes to see if they’re okay. For many of us, we have it under control. We may simply need a supportive listener or someone to check in when we walk away from a panic attack. Overall, we need to just work together to reduce the negative stigma that still exists when it comes to mental health. We need to stop judging others for their conditions and accept that we are all human beings who deserve the same respect despite the different battles we are all going through.

 

 

Rejection, Reflection & Moving Forward in my #SAGrad Process

“If at first you don’t succeed…you’re normal!” –Kid President

After an unintentional 5-month blog hiatus, I’ve finally decided to write again. I guess it’s taken me this long to process through my year, to decide what I need from the upcoming year, and to finally come to terms with the fact that it’s already July (and I literally have no clue what happened to the summer).

In January of 2016 I attempted to begin my student affairs grad search. Despite my acceptance to the institution I wanted to attend, I did not get the graduate assistantship I hoped for. Essentially, I put all my eggs in one basket and made an “all or nothing” decision with this program. After a lot of processing and reflecting after my assistantship rejection, I decided that the best decision for me would be to continue a third year as a Residence Hall Director here at Saint Mary’s College while picking up my grad school search for the Fall of 2017 semester. Although rejection was difficult, I have come to realization that it was absolutely the best decision for my SA career and for myself on a personal level.

Initially, I hoped to attend the grad program because I absolutely fell in love with the city that it was in (mistake #1) . I didn’t take the time to process and reflect on the pros and cons of the institution and what it had to offer. Although Residence Life is my key focus area, the institution did not really offer other structured practicum experiences in other departments. I also did not reflect on the difficulties that a cross country move would be for me (financially and personally). Also as a Pittsburgh native, I feel more and more called to return back home each time I visit. How would I feel if I moved thousands of miles away from my family, especially my 87-year-old grandma?

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Pittsburgh will always be home! Thankfully I’ve had the chance to reflect over these past 2 years in order to realize this is where I’m called to be. Plus we have some of the best colleges around…

Although I really enjoyed what the program had to offer and decided to put all my eggs in one basket, I have to admit that the grad assistantship rejection was a blessing for me. Here are a few of the positive things I’ve reflected on and gained from this experience:

  1. I’ve learned that I really need to search for a program that is not quite as far from my family and friends. Yes, I understand that they will always be there to return to when I am finished with my education, but this experience has really helped me to realize where my support system lies. My family and friends are everything to me, and I truly believe that my grad school career would be much more enjoyable with them by my side.
  1. I need to reflect on what I need from both an assistantship and practicum experience. Although I know that I want to advance in Residence Life to a Director-level position, I understand the value in exploring other areas of Student Affairs. A few areas that I would love to gain more experience from are student activities, power-based personal violence prevention work, and multicultural student services.
  1. I need to accept this third year at Saint Mary’s as a finalization of my development here in this position. Through a lot of processing, I have determined some more of the skills that I need to build if I want to be a Director of Residence Life someday. Thankfully, I work at a small, supportive institution where my supervisor and Assistant VP of SA want to work with me on the experiences and skills that I need in order to make my dream job happen someday. I’m looking forward to developing more of these skills and experiences this year, especially co-advising our Residence Hall Association.

In closing, I want to offer some advice to some of my fellow colleagues that are starting their SA Grad search right along with me:

  1. Make a list of what you need from your SA Grad program and what you can do without. Also look at your assistantship and potential practicum opportunities (if the institution offers them) and reflect on which ones will help you to get to that next point in your development.
  1. Don’t be afraid to look at institutions that are close to your support system. I had a long conversation with my Assistant VP of Student Affairs about my desire to look at a program closer to my friends and family at home. I initially thought that I would be judged for wanting to move back home, but she truly commended my decision and said that we need to reflect on what is the best for us personally. If there is a phenomenal student affairs program close to home, don’t run away from it just because it’s near home.
  1. On the opposite end, I strongly encourage you to look at living away from your home in another state for a few years, whether that is during your SA grad career or if you decide to work in higher education before grad school (like I decided to do). I have grown so much as a person by living away from family and friends in another state for the past 2 years and I definitely don’t regret that decision. I have personally gained more independence, have learned to find my niche in the community on my own, and have taken the time to realize that Pittsburgh is where I inevitably want to end up someday in the near future. I have also had the opportunity to affirm my passion for Residence Life and student affairs overall.

I would love to hear back from other SA Pros who are starting their SA grad search or for those who have already gone through their graduate careers! Hopefully I’ve sparked some reflection for those of you starting the search with me (and have reassured you that the SA grad search process isn’t easy for everyone).