Mental Health Awareness Week at Western may have wrapped up, but its message is still resonating on campus.
Erin Cowan, a third-year Nursing student, recently shared her story of a battle with mental illness via a YouTube video in which she candidly explains the ups and downs associated with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
“While I was going though it (depression), I felt really alone and I think it’s important for other people to know they’re not alone, and for the stigma to stop,” Cowan said, explaining her motivation for going public with her struggle. “I was afraid to get help because of the stigma, and if I had seen a video like this, it might have helped me.
“I wanted to do that for someone else who might be going through the same thing.”
Last fall, Cowan, 21, found herself increasingly irritable and nervous, with a decreased appetite, no motivation or concentration and no desire to eat or be social. She’d go out without her hearing aid, she said, in deliberate attempts to alienate herself in social situations.
She had “extremely dark thoughts” she just couldn’t shake, Cowan explained in the video that in two weeks’ time has had close to 1,500 views.
“It was kind of like a slippery slope and it came to a point where I couldn’t do anything anymore, so I left school, went home and got help, and slowly started to recover,” she said, noting the importance of reaching out and finding a support system and friends who understand.
“I have a really strong support network with my friends but some of my friends may have been a bit wary about it. They didn’t really understand. I think a lot of people don’t really understand. But once you tell people, they will be there for you,” Cowan added.
Cowan explained the general public is more familiar and comfortable with an anxiety disorder. But the stigma associated with depression – particularly its association with suicide – and other mental health disorders often leave people feeling reluctant to reach out.
“You’re not alone. That’s the message I want to get out there. And it (the video) has been therapeutic for me as well. I just felt that I didn’t have a secret anymore and I didn’t have to hide it anymore. I just got it out there and I feel a lot better, actually,” Cowan said.
As for the support she has received on campus, Cowan said it’s been great – when she got in to see someone in Health Services, that is.
“I think the wait times for people in mental health services are a challenge. It’s hard to get in. When I was thinking of going home, I tried going here first and I couldn’t get in,” she said.
“The availability of people to students who are in need or in a crisis could be better.”
In all, awareness and sensitivity to mental health issues is key, she added.
“It really works to decrease the stigma and it kind of normalizes it – that there are other students out there.”