A college student’s brain is tasked with managing a packed schedule. From classes to homework to bills, adulthood brings challenges. However, for the one in five American adults with mental illness, their brain’s to-do list is a little longer.
While statistics give an idea of how common mental illness is across the nation, they don’t tell full stories of those who suffer from a mental illness.
Mary Mangual, a freshman English and creative writing major at Oxford College of Emory University, said her journey with mental illness began when she was just a fourth grader, struggling with body image.
Convinced she was fat at a young age, her size and weight would continue to be at the forefront of her mind, as she advanced from middle school to high school and now to college.
Her weight loss was the first symptom that raised red flags.
“I was used to feeling like I’m not, that there’s no way I can achieve being the person everyone wants me to be,” Mangual said.
She was diagnosed with anorexia the summer before her junior year in high school, but her family had suspected it before an official diagnosis.
“For a while, I was eating one egg and a piece of fruit for breakfast. And then for lunch, I would eat one egg, a piece of fruit and crackers. And then for dinner, I would really sort through whatever [my family] would have,” Mangual said. “What I thought was a lot of food really wasn’t.”
Not only were her food portions small, but she would also exercise excessively.
The lowest weight she reached was 86 pounds.
“To be told that you’re too fat is so much worse than to be told you’re too skinny, and I’ve been told both,” Mangual said. “I think that when you’re being told you’re too fat, it’s like you don’t deserve to take up as much space as you do.”
Once she was diagnosed, her doctor started her out on various medications, trying to find the combination that worked best with her body. To begin, she had to have her blood drawn. At this time, she was at her lowest weight, and she fainted while her blood was taken.
The 19-year old freshman is not alone. Every day, students at the University of Georgia cope with mental illnesses, and their friends may not even know it.
However, a handful of clubs at UGA aim to break the silence of mental illnesses. Active Minds in particular celebrated Eating Disorder Awareness Week, the week of Feb. 27, with encouraging and educational events.
Active Minds kicked off the week with a discussion panel about eating disorders on Feb. 27, which were followed by a tabling event at the Tate Student Center on March 1 and a body image positivity workshop at Memorial Hall on March 2.
“I think the most important thing is that we know that this particular environment, college campuses with young women, are a group that’s really susceptible to these disorders,” said Vice President of Active Minds Jayne-Anne Ahmann, junior psychology major from Atlanta.
Although Ahmann is interested in mental illness because of her major, she has also been around a lot of people close to her who suffer from mental illnesses.
“Just watching people making fun of a girl because she’s crying in class… and you find out she’s having a panic attack. That’s not funny. That’s not something you should laugh about,” Ahmann said. “If you have high-blood pressure, you need to go see a doctor and get medications. It’s the same thing with mental disorders.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness UGA Chapter was recently approved to be student organization. The group said its goal will be to destigmatize mental illness.
President of NAMI, Alex Marion, a sophomore psychology major from Alpharetta said, “I think everybody could do a lot better and benefit from understanding mental health and having this understanding, that our thoughts and being healthy mentally have a huge impact on our everyday lives and how we feel and happiness and all that.”
Because NAMI was recently approved, it will not have events for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Right now, the organization is planning its first general body meeting.
In addition to the undergraduate events, the UGA Law School has its own mental health awareness organization, Georgia Law Mental Health Alliance.
Last semester, Spenser Clark, a first year law student from Kennesaw, noticed there was not a mental health group for the law students, so he founded the organization.
“Mental health is something that affects the majority of lawyers in their profession, so… it was a need that needed to be filled,” Clark, the president and founder of GLMHA, said. “If we can start dealing with it at this level, we won’t have as many problems when we get to our actual profession.”
Clark was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at age 16.
He said, “People [with mental illnesses] are fully functioning. They can live happy and productive lives; it’s just something you have to talk about and take control of.”
As for Mangual, the Oxford College student is still coping with her illness to this day.
Like many mental illnesses, an eating disorder does not disappear completely even after receiving treatment.
“Either I’m super motivated to do everything all at once, or… I’m paralyzed by doubt and the inability to find the one thing that’s most important to do,” Mangual said.
Still Mangual said that while she struggles with her body, she would now tell her fourth grade self, her high school self and her present-day self: “There was never anything wrong with you.”