Photo from healthaffairs.org
By Jennifer Cooper
For a while, I have been toying with the idea of writing a blog or column type series that focuses on the struggles that college students with mental health issues go through. My last blog, Depression and Anxiety in College, was an introduction to this ongoing series that I asked many fellow students to contribute to. There are a lot of issues that plague college students, and there are already a lot of articles there about them, but this is my story.
Specifically, this is about the frustrating cycle I go through in regards to my mental health, socioeconomic status and college performance. They go hand in hand for me, and I will explain why.
My family never had a lot of money growing up; my family suffered from the recession. Socioeconomic status did not mean as much to me when I was younger because my parents worked incredibly hard for what we had. Dad makes the big (not really) bucks in finance, and mom is a teaching assistant. As she puts it, she could make more money, but she is happy where she is which is what is most important. She works in a behavioral class and works at after school programs to get a little extra money. Sometimes she works 13-hour days just to contribute to my tuition and all of the activities I did. I never had as much as my friends did, but I had enough.
Yet, I wanted more. I worked like crazy to get into a good school, to get a good job and to make money like we all do, right? Biology tore me apart, and I had a few suicide attempts my freshman year. It was not worth it to be miserable for the money. I changed my major to journalism and minor to creative writing. I was on the right track, even if I would not be guaranteed a decent salary.
In the interim, I struggle, as many do. College makes me broke. So, I want a job to be able to afford stuff, but I do not have time, and I do not have a car to get to the job. In order to pay for a car, I would need a job. See the problem?
The extra factor for me added in is mental illness. With a job comes the responsibility of showing up every day and being a cheery cashier. I cannot promise that I can always do those things. Work becomes too much, and I cannot get out of bed or leave my room. I want to do it all, but sometimes I cannot. There is also the desire to be independent from my parents, even if they had money to give me. They do not. My socioeconomic background has effectively determined my whole future. I want to be independent and start my own life, but I do not even know if I can.
Specifically, as a journalism major, I am expected to go out and find stories. But how can I without a car? Well, they say everyone else finds a way to do it. I cannot afford a taxi. My schedule does not always sync with my friends. I cannot reinvent the wheel.
I also have to then edit those videos, articles and photos while still JUST TRYING TO GET OUT OF BED. Even though I try to keep my professors in the loop, they just do not understand. I am not asking for special treatment, just compassion, and realistic expectations.
I am just as frustrated as they are that I do not have my own car and cannot go out for stories. A local Starbucks hired me last semester so I worked within walking distance, but the hours were insane, and it just made my mental health about a thousand times worse. And then those same people say that you need internships to get jobs, but I only have time for summer internships which are mostly unpaid.
Well, for those I need a car to get around, but how am I expected to work a part-time job to save money for a car while doing a full-time internship? And if I need an internship to get a job, as all my professors insist, then when do I have time to make money at a summer job?
Why does my birthed socioeconomic status affect the rest of my life?
The simple answer is that I cannot win. I will not hit it big in the lottery. There is no hidden family fortune. I am doing the best I can. My constant overthinking and anxiety that pushes me to do everything perfectly does not help. I understand that other students without mental illnesses face similar issues, However, I want people in this situation to know that they are not alone. While I am usually hopeless, in my clear moments, I truly believe that this will work out with the support of my friends and family.
Anyone going through a similar situation should really just try and turn to friends, family and professional help. There is no point struggling alone. I have been there, and it was the worst. I try to tell myself that money does not mean everything. Socioeconomic status does not define your whole future. That is what my mom tells me, and I hope that if I keep trying to, I will believe it.