Student Stories: Mental Health Trials and Triumphs
This article is the second in an in-depth three-part series exploring the current state of mental health matters on campus. The first article explored possible causes of the significant increase in counseling sessions experienced by the St. Ambrose University Student Counseling Center (SCC) and determined that signs point to difficulties brought on by COVID-19 and the success of the SCC’s outreach efforts. The second article tells the stories of three SAU students dealing with their own mental health struggles who have come forward in hopes of making a difference.
Ty Lewis: “A closed mouth never gets fed.”
Lewis is a senior finance major here at SAU who transferred in from a community college in 2020, and wasted no time getting involved in many aspects of student life.
I’m currently the president of the Finance Club, vice president of the Sales Club, a senior senator for Student Government, the treasurer of the Black Student Union, I’m in the Philanthropy Club, I’m a College Ambassador for the College of Business, and I’m in Marketing Club,” Lewis said. “I try to stay involved in stuff.”
But Lewis’ journey as a transfer student had an even rougher start than anyone could have imagined.
“Right before Covid hit is when I got accepted to Ambrose and transferred and stuff. Then in July of 2020, my father passed away,” Lewis said. “Single parent, he raised me from 13 to 22, and I was 21 when he passed. He passed away right before I came to Ambrose.
“I definitely needed support as far as my mental health journey. My mom and my girlfriend really pushed me to see a counselor, both had very good experiences seeing them,” Lewis said.
Reluctantly Lewis turned to the SCC.
“I wasn’t for it at first, this random person I had no contact with, no relationship with I was coming in and sharing my dad’s story and my story about what I’m going through emotionally with no idea if I can trust them or if this person will be able to help me get through this situation.”
Lewis was dealing with challenges brought on by Covid, transferring schools and the loss of his father and so ultimately decided to give going to a counselor a shot.
“Grief definitely was one issue I was dealing with. That was the main thing, trying to figure out how to push through grief, but also talking with the therapist about not feeling like I’m in the right spot in college. I didn’t feel like I was in the right environment at first,” Lewis said.
“Having someone who has experience with counseling and grief and just working with people was huge and to anyone out there who’s struggling, I think it’s crucial to have somebody that doesn’t know anything about you so you can come in speak about whatever situation you’re going through,” Lewis said. “You get to talk to them and they get to know who you are and what you’re going through.”
Lewis is not alone; visits to counseling centers both on campus and in the United States at large have been increasing, not only due to the effects of Covid but also for the struggles that come with life.
“Maybe you’re not comfortable talking to your friends because they’re your friends and you don’t want them thinking of you differently but in this case, you have a counselor who is there to not judge you but to listen and give you ways to cope and work through your problems,” Lewis said. “You can be selfish, you don’t have to ask ‘what about you’ because it’s all about you. You can let out, you can cry, you can tell them how you’re feeling and they’re going to listen to you and help you process and help you find ways to battle that. You need someone who’s just listening to you.”
When asked if he had anything else he would like to say to the people reading this article, Lewis had one important message in mind.
“My favorite quote is ‘A closed mouth never gets fed,’ if you don’t let anybody know what’s going on and how they can help they’re not going to know. They can’t read your mind. It’s something my dad told me before he passed and I’ve lived to that,” Lewis said. “If there’s anything I need, I ask. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and to the world by not opening your mouth.”
Anonymous: “Therapy lets you fall in love with yourself.”
While Lewis dealt with grief and the struggles that come with a new environment with success, suicide statistics show that this isn’t always the case. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among college-age students nationally, and it’s a trend that hits close to SAU.
“Last semester I tried to commit suicide. I’ve had a lot of childhood things and teen things, I didn’t come from the best of households. A lot of things have happened. Then it finally got too much to where it was just like ‘alright I’m done,’” a sophomore student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said.
“Then I kind of told myself as I was going to do it ‘you know what no you’re better than this’ and so right after I tried that I went and got help, and at my lowest moment, I found the right person to talk to me,” he said.
He was able to stop himself in time and sought the help he needed at the SCC, but the experience has had an impact on him.
“The experience has been really eye-opening, I was someone who, it’s not like I said mental health wasn’t a thing, it was more of like the guy perspective,” he said. “Like oh, toughen up. You’re told you can’t show emotions, you can’t show a lot, and it was a lot. But then I realized no it’s not that anymore. It’s real. It’s 100% real.”
“It’s funny, too, because I was on the football team and everything like that, I come from a small town where I was a star athlete, you know where on Friday nights the whole town is at the football game,” he added. “It’s a way you could have escaped it but eventually, it’s gonna catch back up to you.”
Looking back, the sophomore recognizes the problems he was having, but at the time he wouldn’t have thought about seeking help.
“Don’t listen to the noise. Don’t listen to the outside perspective. At the end of the day, you know yourself best and if you truly feel like you need the help then you need the help,” he said.
“Yeah, stigmas can be tough to get around, but at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for yourself,” he said. “I know that’s so easy to say and there are a lot of other people that can struggle with that but I’m a big person on choices. If you’re not gonna make the choice to get yourself better then you’re not going to get better. Ignore the noise. Go out and get help.
“It’s crazy to me, you’re doing one of the best things for yourself and people want to make it hush-hush, people want to make it like this bad thing. No. It’s the total opposite of that,” he added.
The sophomore student had another instance impact his life in the form of therapy, but this time it was for the better.
“I’ve been doing so well not only with my mental health but with like the type of person I am. I feel so much happier. I finally have someone to talk to,” he said. “The process of what I’ve been saying is that you have to fall in love with the process of getting better. It’s an experience that I hope everyone will be able to see.
“Throughout this whole process of therapy, it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting because you’re talking about the things you need to work on, and a lot of the time people don’t want to hear what they need to work on,” he said. “But at the end of the day is if you’re stuck in the stagnant mindset of ‘oh I’m perfect or I don’t need to work on anything’ then you’re not going to get anywhere because everyone has stuff to work on. Everyone’s not perfect.
“Therapy lets you fall in love with yourself. No matter what anyone says you love yourself more than anything, if you don’t you’re either crazy or you need help. That’s what therapy does, it makes you fall in love with yourself,” he added. “It makes you realize that there’s so much more to life than this little little little thing. It’s just an awesome self-exploration tool.”
“There are so many things that because of therapy I learned, like that football just wasn’t for me anymore and instead of being like ‘I have to be this star athlete from high school’ I can be done and go be something else,” he said. “Oh my gosh, I love getting better.”
Allisyn Blaser: “There’s nothing wrong with me, I just need a little extra help, and that’s ok.”
Blaser is a senior Public Relations and Strategic Communications major here at SAU and is one of the roughly 60% of our student body that is a student-athlete. But Blaser’s mental health journey didn’t start with track.
“I’ve always been told that I’m a very anxious person,” Blaser said. “But my family doesn’t really talk about mental health a lot so it’s always been like ‘You just need to not worry about it’ which is basically is all I’ve ever been told.
“I always used to get sick a lot before school and I think it was because I was anxious. But what got –
– me into actually dealing with my mental health was in January 2021, my grandma passed away on the 2nd, then it was my birthday on the 11th, then I got broken up with for the first time on the 14th,” Blaser said. “So there was a week there that just sucked.”
“Then just like chance had it that I was writing an article for the student newspaper The Buzz actually and I was interviewing Dr. Oliver. I talked to her during our meeting and I was like ‘I’ve always wondered if therapy would be a good thing for me but I’ve always been too nervous to do it’ and at the end of the interview she asked if I wanted her to set me up an appointment,” Blaser added. “I let her sign me up and I met with Lindsay Hohertz, who does my therapy sessions now.”
Blaser’s chance encounter with a counselor got her to make the important first step to living a healthier, happier life.
“I think it’s hard for a lot of students to take that first step. I think a lot of students think about going to therapy but they never actually set up the appointment,” Blaser said. “I know someone who talks about needing to set up regular appointments but just never does it. The first step is the hardest for sure.
“For me, growing up mental health meant that there was something wrong with that person, that it’s like an ‘illness,’ but there’s nothing wrong with me, I just need a little extra help, and thats ok,” Blaser said. “I always thought ‘it’s not that bad for me’ but what I’ve realized now is that my life wasn’t that easy, its not that bad like I could survive like that but that’s all I was doing was surviving. And now I’m thriving. I think it’s just hard for people to admit they need help sometimes, and I think it can be hard to make that jump to ‘this is real and it’s something that I struggle with’.”
One of the biggest things Blaser sites as both a love of hers and a challenge to her mental health is her involvement with track.
“Track can be an escape, especially practice. But there is definitely a fine line between it being an escape and it being a hindrance on my mental health,” Blaser said. “There’s pressure to perform and do well and be at practice every day, which can be hard, especially with all the other stuff I have going on. It’s hard to balance all of that.”
For her, the track team was a place she felt like she could belong, but it took a lot of learning to get to a place where she could have a healthy relationship with the sport and all of the pressures that come with it.
“I remember last year I would cry a lot at track because I felt like I wasn’t doing well enough and I felt like I didn’t have a place of belonging on the team,” Blaser said. “Which originally during Covid my escape was having a place I belong with people I can talk to every day.”
“It’s hard for student-athletes, it’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of getting up early and staying up late, and especially track meets are like 8 hours long and conferences are 2 days long,” Blaser said. “It’s just a lot, and I think coaches need to realize that if their student-athlete takes a day off it’s not because they’re not dedicated to the sport it’s because they need a day off and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“All the coaches will say you’re a student first, but then when it comes to coming to practice and being at meets and doing your extracurriculars like we have to work high school track meets, that all comes before school. You are expected to be there. I missed both of my cousin’s wedding’s for track,” Blaser said.
Pressure like this doesn’t come from just one source, but rather it builds upon itself from the expectations of many different people.
“I think student-athletes are put on this pedestal like ‘oh look at this student who can manage all of their time and do all of the stuff and still get good grades’ because we’re still expected to get on the honor roll, but at the end of the day, we’re not better than anyone,” Blaser said.
“I feel like it’s older adults that expect you to be able to handle everything on your plate and if you can’t it’s because of something you’re doing. And it’s not,” Blaser added. “Quitting has a very negative connotation to it. My parents were like ‘you’re never quitting, as soon as you sign up for something you’re in it until it’s over.’ But like it’s not that serious, like if you need to do this to feel better, do it. It takes guts to stand up for yourself and say that something is deteriorating your health.”
Ultimately, Blaser doesn’t regret her decision to seek help and has become a much happier person because of it.
“I felt like a nuisance, like I was taking resources away from someone else, but looking back I needed it. I would have been struggling still if I hadn’t done it,” Blaser said. “If you’ve ever thought about going to therapy you should try it at least.”
While Blaser felt like she was taking resources away from students who need them, the SCC actually has no issue getting students the help they need in a timely manner. After a student contacts the SCC for the first time their initial screening is done within 72 hours and their first appointment is scheduled for two weeks or less, a timeline that is subject to the student’s schedule and the severity of the issue they’re experiencing.
In her next report, Carolyn discusses mental health resources available to students both on and off-campus, upcoming mental health-related events, and the new student-led mental health club The Gray Matters Collective.