Head Game

Despair, family, and more: The many layers of mental illness

There is no “best” way to cope with any of the numerous mental health disorders, so finding a method that works is critical for anyone battling a condition, whether it be depression or self-harm.

For Loyola student Elisabeth Carr, a combination of medication and therapy has helped her deal with despair. Makeba Tsibu, 19, a Loyola sophomore, used counseling to fight the urge to cut her wrists. For others, joining a support group or adopting a rigorous exercise routine has been the answer. 

“People need to be motivated to get treatment,” said Dr. Patti Kimbel, a practicing psychologist and professor at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.

Carr, 20, a sophomore from Bay City, Michigan, is studying psychology and working at Loyola’s Museum of Art. Although she finds comfort in socializing or reading a book, each day presents a challenge, and it has been that way since she was diagnosed with general anxiety and depression in her last year of high school.

“I guess the main thing is that I stopped enjoying things that I used to enjoy,” said Carr, whose road to salvation began when she confided in her best friend, who had been diagnosed with depression. After educating herself about her family history, and learning her grandfather and two aunts struggle with anxiety depression and bipolar disorder, Carr decided to get help from the school therapist.  

“When I told my best friend I was struggling, it was great to have that weight off my chest and to be able to discuss it.” 

Today, Carr said she is less dependent on counseling, and has found other coping methods.

“I don’t assume everyone knows, but I deal with it like everyone knows,” Carr said. I don’t hide it but I don’t mention it unless it is relevant.”

 She is especially reluctant to tell her extended family.

“Not everyone in my extended family knows that I deal with mental illness,” Carr said. “They can be a little disrespectful, which I find discouraging…..It’s just hard, you want people to understand and you don’t want people to treat you differently. People say it’s all in my head, which it is because it’s a mental illness, but, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Time to Change, a social movement created to fight myths and stigmas about mental health, found that more than 1 in 3 people with mental health problems have been treated negatively as a result of stigma.

Not everyone can afford to get professional help or treatment. Tsibu was diagnosed with depression at the age of 12, after her father died of a stroke.

Her freshman year, Tsibu received treatment at the Loyola Wellness Center, which offers services such as counseling, group therapy, health education and even a therapy dog. Most are free to Loyola students regardless of insurance status, and the center has had more than  20,000 visits since the 2014/2015 school year, according to its website.

However, the sessions are limited to 6-8 visits each academic year. Students who are seeking longer-term therapy, or whose counselor determines they would benefit from longer-term therapy, are given referrals.

Tsibu doesn’t have the financial means to seek outside help, which pushes Tsibu to find her own forms of treatment. Tsibu often draws comics and cartoons, writes free verse poetry, and shops at her favorite store, TopShop. 

One of Tsibu’s personal accomplishments is stopping self-harm. She hurt herself using a medical blade to cut her wrist. With the help of added responsibilities from school, her job and writing poetry in her free time, she stopped self-harm a year ago.

“I’ve been writing a lot more,” she says. “I read a lot of poetry over the summer, and I was thinking maybe I could turn all this depressing stuff that I’m feeling and thinking, and like write it all down and maybe it will sound like a poem, as opposed to keep reliving it over and over in my head.”

She also got rid of the medical blade. 

“I was kind of like maybe I should just stop,” she said.There are other non-medical treatment options, such as joining a support group, finding a hobby, exercising or utilizing a hotline or phone apps such as “Text a Tip” and “Stop, Breathe, and Think.”

 “Text a Tip” is a crisis line aimed at preventing people from harming themselves. Users can text TIP708 and send their messages to 274637 (or Crimes) if they see suspicious activity. All personal phone information will be stripped from the text before it is forwarded to the authorities.

“Stop, Breathe, and Think” is a free application designed for “guided meditations and mindfulness,” according to the website stopbreathethink.com. There are two versions, one for children and one for adults, which encourages users to take 5 minutes to evaluate what they are feeling.

“Stop what you are doing. Check in with what you are thinking, and how you are feeling. Breathe. Practice mindful breathing to create space between your thoughts, emotions and reactions. Think. Broaden your perspective and strengthen your force field of peace with personalized meditations and actives,” users are told.

According to Kimbel, an assistant clinical professor at Roosevelt University who also has 15 years experience as a private practice clinician, “social media had aided reduction of suicide rates in the past five years” from teens creating posts.

Steven Davis, 31, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recommends that people affected with a mental illness look for different options until they find something that works for them.

“If it’s something they have medications for, definitely try them,” said Davis, a mechanical engineer who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and depression in the first grade. “If you try them and you’re still having problems, it means you need to try something else. Unfortunately, it’s gonna be a trial-and-error process.”  

Davis changed his medication after going back to college for a second time and experienced a huge improvement. “The fact that I actually graduated college was a big deal to me,” Davis said. “I didn’t decide to change my depression meds until after I decided I was going back to school.Fortunately I did try something really different, and it worked for me.”

Davis said he pushes himself to exercise for at least an hour everday at the gym to feel better both mentally and physically. He also listens to audio books when doing house chores.

“It’s very important to get regular exercise and socialize with people,” he said. “That can be a very good support system.” 

Regardless of the solution, those inside and outside the medical profession agree on one thing: Doing nothing is not an option. 

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