Student Margaret Hall defines mental health
Interview by Jordan Petteys, photo by Elise Mullen
How does your mental health affect your college experience?
“I think college is an experience in itself where you’re expected to leave knowing a little bit more about who you are. I believe that mental health plays a huge role in that. I never thought about mental health before I came to college; I didn’t have a vocabulary for it. I grew up in Dallas, Texas and had the standard problems of a young, high school girl. It became apparent that the way I treated my work and the way I treated my friends in college had the potential to set the trend for the rest of my life.
I think mental health plays a huge role in my college experience because my college experience plays a role in the kind of woman that I’m going to be from here on out. That doesn’t mean that’s not subject to change; if it weren’t then what I’m doing right now would be incredibly stressful. I’m learning how to be healthy in a way that serves God first, others second, and myself last. Somehow, in the question of mental health, I’ve come to a point that even though I’m last, I’m not floundering. And it’s been cool. So, I think mental health has played a huge role, but it’s not the role that I thought it would play. It’s not a role that puts me first. It’s a role that puts me last.”
How do you cope with your mental health both positive and negative?
“That’s interesting. I had an anxiety disorder growing up and there was a time where I couldn’t even go to school without crying and calling my mom and making sure that she would be there at the end of the day. I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder which means that you get worried about something irrational.
Growing up, for a year probably, I was worried that my mom would forget me at school and not pick me up. So, something as small as that, even though I lived five blocks away, that worry caused a lot of fear in my life. I guess not so many problems, but difficulties I would have with mental health are tied to my anxiety more frequently. I went to a Christian counselor and since then, the way that I deal with stress- which is the forefront of any problems I would have with mental health- was talking to God like I would speak to a friend. In those moments that I’m scared, I have someone consistently reliable outside of myself that I can be like, ‘okay, this is how I feel. Show me or tell me that I’m wrong so that I can pick up and move on and if I’m right, give me a reason to keep moving and conquer it.’
Now, I see a therapist every other week; some for anxiety, and some for other things. Sometimes [in recent weeks] I have noticed that when I’m anxious, I immediately go to my phone and say, ‘I’m just going to forget about it for a couple of minutes.’ Then it’s always there when I come back. It’s like stress, you get lost in something, and then you resurface and whatever you were fearful of [what is scaring you, what is worrying you] is still lurking in the corner or right over your shoulder. But I think the beautiful thing about turning to God with my anxiety, has been that he’s so big; he’s so vast that I can literally take anything small or large that I’m struggling with, and he takes it off of me and places it onto Jesus. Then we can tackle it together in a new perspective.
Now it’s not on me, I can see it. I can analyze it. I can be free to move around it, see all corners, have a new perspective. Suddenly tackling my mental health becomes something sweet and beneficial, rather than something stressful that I can’t escape. I would always encourage people to talk to someone that you trust deeply, who you feel like has a good way that they tackle their mental health. I think it’s essential to have a physical person that you can speak to; I think that provides a lot of hope for people who are struggling, but then also sometimes it’s just nice to talk to something outside of yourself. For me, I talk to Jesus, I talk to the God of the bible. Whether you talk to Jesus, or you talk to something, I think it’s a really sweet opportunity to escape. But it’s escaping for me, in a way that drastically changes my perspective on what I’m dealing with.”
How does social media affect your mental health?
“When I had social media, it was something really fun. It was a place that I could share my art and the things that I was doing or working on. It was such an affirming thing to see that people wanted to support me and love what I was doing.
As the years progressed, as I got older, there is still such a sweet element to social media [I think in everything]. More often than not you can find an element in it that is sweet and affirming and supports the truth: the truth that you matter, the truth that you are here for a reason. You aren’t tied to keeping up with a vision of yourself because the value has already been placed on you. However, I think the nature of the world is that we take the truth and we twist it. Suddenly your value is not in truth with a capital ‘T’ something lasting, something constant, something that will never change [however you want to put it]. Your value is in what the people around you say about you.
I think the problem with that, and it’s not just something I think, I know that the problem with that is when we rely on people to tell us our value, we are putting all of our weight on something ever-changing. The opinions of people will always, always, always reform, redirect, evolve, and that can be in a positive or a negative direction. It’s very destructive for us to put what we think about ourselves into the hands of something that is not constant. I think for me, I’m always swinging on this pendulum.
My relationship with social media has the potential to be so healthy. I think developments on Instagram [where you can put a time limit on it] are wonderful. I think that’s great: putting goals and parameters on the amount of time you invest in what other people say about you or in what other people are doing.
However, I’m definitely in a season or stage of life where I’m either like ‘yeah, I can handle social media, yeah, I can do this,’ and then I spend an extra hour there, immediately start to recognize the things that aren’t adding up with my time there, the things that are producing self-hate or whatever. I swing to the other side of the pendulum, and I delete the app completely. Then I want that affirmation. I create something cool and I’m like ‘I want to share it- I want people to see it.’ To have a healthy relationship with social media you have to be: able to be grounded in truth with a capital ‘T’ and have your pendulum weighted down by something that can carry the weight.
I have yet to figure that out, I still delete my Instagram probably once a week. I think that to a certain degree that’s healthy. Fast from social media, unplug for a little bit, goodness gracious. You will find when you do, that you might be struggling with something you didn’t know you were. What a beautiful invitation for improvement, you know? I don’t think people should be afraid of unplugging from social media. I also don’t think people should be afraid of indulging in it. That’s just the reality of being a person. It is okay to want to be affirmed. But who are you looking to for affirmation? Absolutely, take part in it, it’s something that was created to be lovely. Just don’t let it get twisted. Ask yourself the right questions in pursuing it.”
What assumptions do people make about your mental health? What do you want people to know?
“I think we, our generation, is sort of at the forefront to be accessible, truly accessible. So, I think things like social media have been used to bridge the gap between perception and reality. People are becoming more honest on social media. People are more open to talking about what they’re struggling with. I think something that’s really interesting about people, when we talk about reality we immediately go to ‘struggle’. You ask the question, “what do you want people to know about you?” Versus what they perceive about you. But you ask about perception versus reality and immediately my mind goes to, “well people should know that I struggle with things.” Because I seem like a pretty happy person, I seem like I have my stuff together; but I don’t think everyone needs to know that I don’t have it all together, I think that the people I trust need to know that I don’t have it all together.
There have been times where I’ve had the privilege of talking to people who I don’t know about things that I struggle with. People need to have other people who they can share their lives with. If you don’t have a community of friends who you feel like you can be open and honest with, you better start looking. You’re never going to be healthy without it. Are there exceptions to that? Yes, but never lasting ones, never permanent ones. It’s always just for a season, where you’re lonely and you feel like you’re deteriorating a little bit, near the end. I think there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel when we’re trying to find community. So, let me tell you if you’re a freshman, and you don’t know anybody, start looking. Look in places that pique your interest, whether that’s a certain faith find a gathering place for that faith, whether that’s a club at SCAD or even a classroom.
When you build friendships through positivity, those friendships are going to be a fortress of positivity for you. Those are going to be the people you can trust because they’re the people that lift you up.
Something I would want people to know about me [if you know me for more than half an hour] I hope that you know that I don’t have it all together. My hope is also that if you know me for more than a week, you would know that my value is not tied to my personality, my value is not tied to my emotions and my mental health is not tied to my emotions, I’m always changing. I cannot rely on the state of my mental health to satisfy me.”