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Mental Health SCAD

Student Kate Bender defines mental health


Interview by Jordan Petteys, photo by Elise Mullen

Kate Bender is a second year student studying Industrial and Service Design.

How does your mental health affect your college experience?

“It’s definitely made it more challenging. It’s broken me down a little bit and has revealed different aspects of myself that I didn’t quite know. I didn’t even know that I was going to be away from home, I thought I was going to be in my own space, and now I am away from home.

Sometimes it’s like everything is happening all around me and I’m just stuck. It has taught me a lot about who I am, my work ethic and what I’m reaching towards. It’s definitely made it a lot harder. It’s almost like that person that is sitting next to you but you don’t want them sitting next to you. They’re always there, let me tell you, they are always there. It’s also torn me away from people.

It’s really hard to balance all these things: going to school, hanging out with friends and working. You’re doing all these different things and if something bad happens or if something triggers your mental health, you have to be selective about what you focus on. The last time I went through a bad mental health spurt, I dropped all of my friends and I kept all the rest of it. That is not a good idea. It’s really hard to balance all of those things and it’s hard to do it well. You have to manage your mental health however you can. I just managed it in a way that hurt other people.”

In what ways do you cope with your mental health, both positive and negative?

“I’ll start with the negative, I hide. I just disappear and I break down a little bit, I get a little bit aggressive and short with people. I’m usually this person that wants to love everybody, I want to make sure everybody is ok and I want to make sure that they’re loved before I’m loved.

When I’m tackling my mental health on top of my school work and everything else, I just start to close off which is really hard. I just forget about everybody else’s feelings and that’s not healthy. I also use this as a negative and a positive thing. I definitely use drugs as a way to help me move through it. It’s positive for me, I know its negative for other people. It becomes negative for me when I rely on a substance but as long as I can do it in a healthy way without having to rely on it then that’s the goal. I know that other people use substances and they abuse them, the point is not to abuse them, it’s to use them to your advantage.

On a positive note, I have these things that I do where I do different voices and I do different faces. I just kind of have this way of going through life in a bit of a goofy way, this all started with a really good friend of mine from back home. It’s our way of not taking life too seriously. Just don’t take life too seriously. If you’re going through something hard, using a silly voice or doing a funny face kind of brings you back down to this ‘you’re ok’ kind of state. So, I do that all the time. I think you can notice that I’m not handling my anxiety and my depression well when I’m not doing that because as soon as I’m not doing that I’m at an all-time low.

Another thing is, I tend to rely on God, a lot. I love myself some Jesus. It’s so incredible that I have this God who just loves me and who wants to take these feelings away from me. He wants to help me work through those, and I get to work through those with him. Another amazing thing is that he has these disciples that he has placed into my life, that I get to go to as well. I get to tell them how I’m feeling. Hopefully, if they feel the same way, we get to cope with mental health together. I struggle remembering that I get to cope with mental health with other people, I’m not alone in that. I’m never alone because I’ve got the big man. He’s great, he’s so wonderful and he’s so passionate about helping his children.”

How does your mental health influence your art or the way you express yourself?

“I think for my major it’s a little harder for me [when I’m going through something], to say, ‘let me get this huge piece of paper out and just slap some good stuff on there.’ I can’t really do that because that’s not really my major. I do that but it’s not good. I think a lot of people are able to channel their mental health through their art, which is incredible. I see some really amazing stuff from these people who are going through some really hard times.

I don’t really use what I’m going through in my art. If anything it negatively impacts my art because I’m less likely to want to spend time on it. When I’m anxious, when I’m stressed and when I’m depressed; I’m not going to want to go to the building where all these other people are and work for twelve hours. If I do, it’s not going to end up being that good. Which kind of sucks, I’m just not in the right headspace for it. The thing about my type of art, my type of design is it’s really about passion. You have to be passionate about what you’re working on. If you’re not, find just one little aspect of that project that you’re passionate about. But when your passion is lost, it becomes really hard to focus on that stuff.

I definitely saw that a lot last year, where I would create something and it was so bad because I didn’t want to be working on it. Something that I do with every project, as soon as the teacher says you’re allowed to use some type of color, I instantly use the color red. In the Bible, God’s word is written in red. I have a good friend who has used it in photography projects before. It’s a symbol of noticing God’s word in my everyday life and making sure that he is in my projects. I’m doing these projects for the passion of the Lord. To be able to get a red thread and throw it on a project somewhere, that’s all I need to be able to find passion in it. I did it in a group project this past week, where I said let’s use red. To be able to use one color to make my art for passion is all I need. It’s hard to be a builder and to channel your mental health into building something because you’re just not in the mood.

I find myself always walking down the street and I’ll see something cool. I’ll want to take my camera out and take a picture, but I’ve stopped doing that. It’s made me notic art in my everyday life. I see this a lot, especially when I’m going through a mental health situation.”

How does social media affect your mental health?

“I love social media, I think it’s great, I think it’s a super cool and powerful thing and a great way to share your art. But, it has such a negative weight on it. For me, it impacts my self-esteem. My confidence drops really low when I’m on social media. About six months ago I stopped posting.

I always hear people say, ‘I need an aesthetic. I need an aesthetic. I should start posting more.’ I always ask why. As soon as I start posting more, it becomes something my mind is always on. I take so many pictures, but the great thing is I don’t feel the need to share them with people. If I shared them with people, I’d rather sit them down and have my phone out and tell them those stories. I’ve been in this weird middle ground. I can’t decide if I want to post more and do it the way I want to do it. I want to share more of God’s word and positivity in my life. Or leave it as it is. I love seeing what people are up to. I also think using social media in a positive way is so important, I wish people did it more.

I have a friend who every time I see a post of hers, not only is it a beautiful picture because I like to see her photography, but her caption is what I needed to hear. Some amazing story from the gospel that I needed to know that I didn’t know before, she teaches her followers about what’s important to her and I think that’s really cool. I also love getting to see other peoples art. We can do blogs, websites, but just having it in one place is really cool. For me, it negatively impacts me, I don’t want to rely on how many likes I get on a picture which I know would happen instantly, I let that happen to myself. If I don’t get enough likes, I’m going to be upset. I never want people to feel like they have to post something, for likes.

I try to take it light as a feather. How social media affects me is indirect because I see how it affects people I hang out with. Don’t force yourself to get on social media, all its going to do is be unhealthy for you. I see a picture of a really beautiful girl, talk about this girls body type and it all circles back to my self-esteem. I wish people used social media to share positive things. Think about all the negative stuff you hear about in the world, and where you hear it from. They don’t pick up the phone and call you, they post it on facebook, or in a caption, or in stories. I just never want myself or anyone else to feel like they have to do stuff for other people. I love being able to connect with people, especially at home so they can see what I’m doing, but people still get mad and ask why I’m not posting because they want to know what’s going on with my life. You can text me. I’ll let you know what’s going on in my life.

What assumptions do people make about your mental health? What do you want people to know?

Just because I have a smile on my face, doing my silly voices, my faces, goofing around, doesn’t always mean I’m okay. If that was the case, I’d always be okay. It probably means I’m going through something and trying to hide it.

Don’t always assume people are okay because they have a big smile on their face, and going out. There’s a lot of situations where I’ll put a smile on my face because I want you to feel comfortable. Something that bothers me, is that people always ask, ‘how are you?’ and people are always like, ‘yeah I’m good’ and then they walk away.

What if people answered that question with honesty? then it starts this whole other conversation that is no longer just surface level. It gets down and deep; I love those conversations. If someone asks how I am I’ll tell them, ‘I’m really struggling, thanks for asking.’ If they don’t want to hear about that, they can say, ‘sorry to hear that.’ Then walk away and that would be fine; they don’t need to be my therapist. Other people would say, ‘let’s talk about it,’ and those are the cool people that want to find connections between their mental illness and yours. They want to try to brainstorm ways to cope with these things you’re going through. That’s something I’ve been trying to do because it’s easy to hide behind a big smile. Always ask me how I am, I’ll be honest with you. It’s really awesome when you ask how I am and I can say, ‘I am great.’ Also, if I’m not doing okay, I want other people to be doing okay. I always post on my story, ‘hey I hope you’re having a good day,’ because if I’m not having a good day, I hope there’s is going well. If I can do that for someone else, whereas someone else isn’t doing that for me. It really makes it better.”

Is there anything else you want to say?

“Ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness when you ask for help if anything it shows a sign of strength. That you’re willing to get up and walk over to someone and say, ‘I need help.’ It doesn’t always have to be a person, sometimes I just bow my head and pray. I ask for help from God and that works just as well as asking for help from someone from anyone else. There are people that want to help you, that’s so cool. It could be your family members, your friends, your roommate or sometimes even your teachers. I have teachers that I know I can go to and ask for help so don’t ever feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness because it’s not. Never be afraid to be honest about your mental illness. As soon as you start being honest, your relationships are no longer surface level, they’re so deep and that’s so cool. We are all so different, so being able to dig through all of our layers is really interesting.”