Joshua Phelps, Features Editor

Mental Illness Awareness Week ended Oct. 12, but for those struggling with mental illness, it goes beyond one week. For me, I’ve suffered from mental illness for years. That mental illness is depression. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, major depressive episodes affect 17.7 million Americans. 

Rather than describe my entire life, I can say the cause for my depression has been a variety of factors growing up. From being the victim of bullying as a teen for being gay; caring for both parents who lost mobility because of cancer or arthritis-related conditions; to dealing with the loss of a sister and father to a brain anyeurism and heart-related causes; as well as dealing with a friend and, recently, and brother lost to suicide, one can see where my symptoms developed.

Life wasn’t easy for me. 

Instead of seeking help, or finding resources willing to take someone with little money, I turned to drugs as a means to cope with my loss. My drug use abruptly ended, thankfully, but I’ve replaced that addiction with food, and now exercise.

My methods of dealing with loss isn’t something others should mimic. When left untreated for some time, it can lead to something worse. While my addiction got bad at some point, nothing came close to the moment when I hit rock bottom in 2012. That year, I attempted suicide twice.

NAMI reports suicide as the second-leading cause of death amongst individuals aged 10-34 in the U.S. 

I didn’t want to become another statistic. 

When I lost my brother to suicide this year on Sept. 8, I knew I had to seek help because exactly one year before that, I considered taking my life a third time. It was time for me to come forward and seek help, but I didn’t know where to start.

Thankfully, one of my professors told me about the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ counseling services offered at the Health, Wellness and Counseling Services office at 131 Millennium Student Center. 

The service, which is $10 per visit, will never turn down a student if they’re low on funds.

Since learning of the service offered by UMSL, I’ve had three sessions so far. In those sessions, I’ve learned to accept my feelings as valid instead of pushing them away and to not hesitate when coming forward to strangers.

I’ve also learned it’s okay to focus on myself. That’s why I made the decision to step down as a feature editor for the paper. 

I have this habit of putting too much on my plate and picking up new groups to participate in, or jobs to take up my time so I don’t have time to focus on my feelings. I would put up emotional barriers and wouldn’t even let my partner in. 

I’m taking a hiatus to better myself and to focus on future endeavors. 

Depression isn’t constant. Sometimes people go in remission, only to return a few months or a few years after. In my case, by ignoring my emotions and forcing depression in remission, it has taken a toll on my mental health and wellbeing. I’m taking back control and not holding back this time around.

To the students of UMSL suffering from a mental illness, don’t do this alone. It’s okay to come forward and it’s okay to talk to someone. Don’t be like me and wait until the last moment to seek help. 

Students who are in need of help can contact counseling services at (314) 516-5711 to set up an appointment. Additionally, students can set up an appointment online at http://http://health.umsl.edu. Counseling services is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.