Before Michigan, I had never really experienced mental health issues before in my life. Or well, I thought. Michigan taught me many things and one of them is that mental health is an issue that needs to be given a lot of importance in one’s everyday life.
I’m going to be an open book here. Yes, while I was in Michigan my mental health was not its best. When I got back to Malta, it was horrible. I was mentally not stable because the transition back to Malta affected me greatly. I missed my life in America (and I still do) but I feel that I am now FINALLY ok. My mental health has been good. I haven’t had panic attacks in a while or pangs of homesickness. I haven’t cried and sobbed in a while. I’m feeling good.
I’ve been meaning to write about mental health on my blog for a while simply because I think it really needs to be talked about more in Malta. At Oakland University, the Counselling Center was really supportive and I appreciate the sessions I had with my counsellor. OU as a university gives mental health a priority and is very understanding to students suffering from mental health. People in Michigan are also very open about their mental health issues. They seek help and want to talk about their problems. Now, I do not want to generalize so I need to state that this is simply the impression I got of the people I encountered there.
When I was at OU, I became very aware of my emotions simply because I had the time to reflect on how things are affecting me. In Malta, I’m always so busy that I never really have this time. When I do feel down, I tend to push aside my mental problems and tell myself to keep working hard. Michigan made me realize that this is something bad that you can do to yourself. Pausing and taking care of yourself is not a sign of weakness and it is not laziness.
Especially when it comes to students, school in Malta is way too stressful and I know that a lot of people suffer from mental issues due to school yet do not seek help. I feel that the reason why is because mental health is not something discussed enough at home to begin with. I feel that the Maltese culture is not aware enough of the existence of mental health. I mean this in particular to our parents who as a generation most probably were not taught about these things from their parents or school. Therefore, we are brought up not realizing that we may have these problems. Now, this is only my observations therefore I cannot say this is any actual truth.
Our educational system is also not helpful with regards to mental health. From a young age, we are taught to simply regurgitate information and not actually learn. This is too stressful. Recently, awareness about mental health has increased however simply telling students that counselling is available is not a way to actually get students to seek help. There needs to be acceptance and full understanding about what mental health actually is. I am glad that the University of Malta is slightly improving this with KSU organizing mental health campaigns however the fact that we do not have a building called the Counselling Center, in my opinion, is problematic. Furthermore, there needs to be adequate counsellors that amount to the ratio of students at the University of Malta.
Amongst peers, I feel that we might not be very comfortable with talking about our mental health issues. I do think that people of my generation are not open about their mental health because they probably feel that their own friends would not be able to understand them. This is again due to the fact that we were not raised aware of mental health.
Therefore, what can be done to break down the taboo on mental health?
Firstly, give people your time and listen to them. You have no idea what it means to give someone your time and to simply be there for them. Put their needs before your own. All people might need is a hug or an hour to just let them cry and talk it out.
Be gentle with people going through rough times and try to gently give them suggestions on how to improve their situation. Also gently empower them to get back on track. I use the word gently because when you are in a moment of mental instability, you do not want to hear someone being rash and over the top. This can make the person feel like you are being misunderstanding. Tone of voice and touch are also important to make the person feel that they are in a safe environment.
And finally, if you are reading this and you are going through a period of mental instability, seek help. Find a trustworthy friend, teacher, parent, just someone who you can comfortably open up to. You are important and you deserve all the time in the world.
Here are some links to seek help!