Coming from an Asian upbringing, mental health was not something that my family discussed openly.
It was something that we swept under the rug, firmly believing that if you do not acknowledge the negative thoughts and emotions, they will eventually disappear. It was no surprise, then, that I was not equipped with healthy coping mechanisms when dealing with the common issues that most incoming college freshmen struggle with during their first few months on campus.
I can sympathize with how challenging it is to even comprehend what it is you are going through, let alone figuring out how to fix it.
College comes with a variety of newfound freedoms. While it can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming.
On top of the stress of being thrown in a completely new environment, freshmen also have to deal with academic and social pressures, anxiety from all the new responsibilities thrust upon them and often disappointment concerning school, work and other commitments. This can lead to students isolating themselves, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and feeling like they do not belong.
In addition to my own experiences with these mental health problems, as a mentor for the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan Scholars — a First-Year Interest Group — I have also witnessed firsthand how these issues manifest in first-year students.
One of the main barriers that I have seen preventing students from properly dealing with mental health issues is reaching out to someone for help. Especially with a university the size of UT-Austin, it can be extremely difficult to navigate where to start. New students are usually unfamiliar with the myriad of resources available to them and are therefore unable to utilize the support that they have at their disposal.
However, efforts have been made to try to remedy this problem through various programs such as the Mental Health Peer Educator Program within the Wellness Network. This program helps promote mental health awareness around campus through workshops, events and other activities that allow students to be more familiar with what the Counseling and Mental Health Center has to offer.
The stigma around the discussion of mental health also worsens the problem that first-year students face when finding help. The perpetuation of these negative, preconceived ideas compels students to feel more hesitant to acknowledge and communicate what they are going through in fear that doing so would make them seem feeble and inadequate.
During their first few months on campus, students often begin comparing themselves to peers who are seemingly better adjusted and more academically successful than they are, leading them to feel even more incompetent and undeserving.
Being afforded the privilege of attending an institution with the prestige of The University of Texas at Austin sets elevated expectations.
The weight of these expectations can act as a motivator for some students, but for others, it could become a crippling burden of intimidation that results in heightened levels of distress if they fail to live up to a certain standard. Hence, any feelings of underperformance can quickly lead to shame.
Ultimately, I believe that one of the best things that we can do to help first-year students be better equipped when dealing with these issues is to foster an environment where the discussion of mental health is not only welcomed but encouraged.
We, as a community, need to help students understand that what they are going through is natural and that they are not alone in their hardships. Because after all, Longhorns take care of each other.
Agulto is a biology senior and researcher in the Anxiety and Health Behaviors Lab.