Op-Ed: More than just a broken arm

Sunday, March 20, 2016 - 6:49pm

I was 12 years old the first time I broke my arm. The next school day, I walked into class and all of my friends ran over to sign my bright orange cast, ask how I was doing and reassure me that they were there should I need anything.

I was 13 years old when I was officially diagnosed with an extreme case of anxiety disorder. Nobody ran over to ask how was I doing or to reassure me they were there should I need anything. It was not something people openly talked about.

I was 18 years old and in the middle of my freshman year of college the second time I broke my arm. I walked into my sociology discussion the next day and several students ran over to ask how I was doing and reassure me they were there should I need anything.

Around that same time, my anxiety was growing day by day and I couldn’t have been more unhappy. I felt isolated, alone and sad. Nobody was asking me how I was doing or reassuring me they were there should I need anything. It was not something people openly talked about.

I was comfortable talking about any visible pain I was feeling on the outside. I was not comfortable talking about the invisible pain I was feeling on the inside. I felt ashamed, embarrassed and disgraced.

This stigma, the stigma toward mental health, plays a negative role in my life and in the lives of far too many college students and others — even from a young age. Only recently has the discussion of mental health and wellness become something we talk about openly.

As I have continued through college and my work with mental health advocacy, as an incoming Wolverine Support Network director and Central Student Government representative, has progressed and become a passion, I am becoming more comfortable telling my story, asking others theirs, facilitating small group discussions, and talking about internal pain. But sadly, I am in the minority. Far too many students experience isolation as part of and as a result of their internal pain, having nobody who will run over to offer a helping hand.

If we can create a campus community that fosters acceptance and understanding of all forms of illness and encourages students to discuss issues that cover all aspects of the mental health spectrum, then maybe — just maybe — one fewer college student will become a statistic. I believe that we need to have open discussion and dialogue about mental health through this aforementioned mutual understanding.

Thanks to the Internet and social media outlets, our generation, unlike any other before us, has access to the world. We have the platform and an audience at our fingertips to speak with about issues that formerly were not openly talked about. Because of this advantage, we should make it our mission to take the endless resources available to us and work to shatter this stigma. It is our duty to be the change, to take a stand and to continue to write the stories of those who are affected by mental health disorders, because failure to do so could be putting people’s lives on the line.

Let's start treating mental health like we treat a bright orange cast on the arm of a 12-year-old. If not now, when? If not us, who?

Sierra Stone is a Wolverine Support Network director and Central Student Government representative.