These four — sometimes five — undergraduate years at college are supposed to be the best of our life. Movies, television shows and crazy stories from our parents are constant reminders of the fun we should be having, the friends we should be making and the once-in-a-lifetime experiences we’d be crazy to miss out on. Unfortunately, a large number of University of Michigan students find themselves unable to take advantage of these unique opportunities. For many of these students, mental health problems are a significant obstacle in their path to a happy university career.

Most freshmen arrive during Welcome Week and are suddenly cut off from the support system they’ve spent much of their lives establishing in their hometowns. Before, their parents, old friends and high school coaches and teachers looked out for their best interests. Now, after they have unpacked their bags and gone over their favorite color and type of food with their new roommate, they have to build that entire support system up again.

Usually, the signs that a student may be having a problem are lost in the initial excitement of the first couple months of college. But by this point in the year, many students have settled into their new lifestyles, built themselves a niche in a new friend group, found a student organization to get involved with and pulled themselves through their first set of midterms. When everyone around seems to suddenly have it all figured out, it can make it even more obvious that everything isn’t going entirely as planned. Sometimes, it takes being removed from the comforts of your home setting to realize that all those gnawing anxieties have morphed into something bigger, something uglier.

I had a similar experience around this time freshman year. I’d been dealing with various degrees of sadness and hopelessness for years, but being in a place that was supposed to be the setting for the happiest times of my life was a real wake-up call to the fact that I had not been living my life the way I wanted to be. That was when I pulled a little blue stress football out from the depths of my dorm desk and called the number written on the side.

That’s how I ended up at the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. I felt uncomfortable there at first, almost guilty, as though it was a space intended only for people with what I thought of as “real” problems. I thought that my array of suburban white girl stresses hardly qualified me for outside help, and I almost expected the counselor assigned to me to roll her eyes as I spoke about my life.

Of course, she didn’t. What I didn’t understand was the fact that just because a problem is only in your head doesn’t mean that it’s not real or doesn’t need attention. The counseling services offer assistance to students with any number of issues — from day-to-day stress to relationship counseling to severe disorders. That’s why they offer a wide variety of counseling options, from the standard one-on-one treatment to weekly group counseling with like-minded peers, to daily meetings that offer a no-pressure overview of common concerns encountered by Michigan students. CAPS also provides urgent and crisis services for patients who must be seen that day and referral services for those seeking long-term treatment elsewhere.

There continues to be stigma toward getting treatment for mental health problems. Some people worry that if they do, they’ll be seen as weak, or as crying out for attention. I know that was one of my concerns. But I can honestly say that going to CAPS has improved my college experience more than I could have ever imagined by opening me up to new opportunities and a healthier way of viewing the world. Don’t let the stress of college get you down — those at CAPS are there to help.

Mary Gallagher can be reached

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