“Are you . . . sad?” Michael asked, confused.
We were on our way to go trout fishing on the banks of the Little River in Floyd, Virginia. It was a cold day in November in 2003, and I was driving my old Volvo, heat turned up high. The windshield had begun to fog over, and Michael searched my car for a napkin to wipe the condensation from the inside. As he opened up my glove box, my anti-depressants slipped from their hiding place and fell into his lap. Even though the car was comfortably warm and I was wearing my heavy jacket, a chill ran up my spine.
Michael was my boyfriend and had been for a while. He lived across the hall from me, and we met in the laundry room one night when he offered me a quarter when I found myself short. I knew him like the back of my hand, and he knew me better than I knew myself at times.
I trusted Michael with my life.
It was fair for him to be confused. His seemingly happy girlfriend was hiding anti-depressants in her car and made a daily trek to the lower parking lot to treat her depression. I had never told him about my struggles with depression and anxiety. I didn’t tell him that at one time in my life I had intentionally hurt myself and that I hadn’t wanted to live anymore. I refused to let him see me as broken. I feared what would happen if he ever found out. Would he be angry? Embarrassed? Mean? Would he walk away from the relationship we built? I felt guilty for being so sad when he made me so happy. I felt ashamed of the thoughts that plagued my mind day in and out. My heart hurt to think of how my pain could somehow hurt him. I felt so alone.
That day I allowed myself to open up to Michael in a way I never had before. We pulled off the road, and as we fished, he asked me questions, and I was honest with him. I let the walls that I had so carefully crafted over the years crumble and fall around me. Michael didn’t understand my struggles personally, but he supported me in a way I never expected. He still loved me and cared for me, and he let me know that he was there for me. That I wasn’t alone. I had found an ally to be my support in a time that was very dark. I was a sophomore at Radford University and searching for someone to understand.
My story is not unique. 10% of college students have been diagnosed with depression, the majority of which never seek treatment. There are so many others who go undiagnosed and struggle in a dark silence. 1,100 college students die by suicide every year, and 1 in 12 have created a suicide plan. Chances are, at least 2 people in your English 101 class are struggling with a mental health issue, if not more. Perhaps they are also looking for someone to understand.
I have been working with University Chapters since I started with TWLOHA in September 2009. I came in as an intern as the program launched its first 15 chapters. I watched as light began to spread across these college campuses. People were beginning to talk about mental health. Students began to come clean about their struggles. Communities of hope and support were formed on campuses across the country. Suddenly, those who were hurting weren’t so alone anymore.
And as the years have passed, I have watched 72 chapters launch, all along the east coast, into the Midwest, onto the west coast, and into Canada. We even started our first international chapter in New Zealand as a test to see how far this program can extend. Each of our student leaders is passionate, dedicated, and engaged in the program. I’m humbled every day by their willingness to be vulnerable on their campus. To start a conversation about topics that were once deeply hidden, and in some cases still are. They are touching thousands of lives.
That’s why I am excited to announce our first ever TWLOHA University Chapters Summer Conference. This conference will combine our two-day MOVE Community Conference with a two-day leadership training workshop designed to educate and inspire our leaders providing them with new resources, an opportunity to collaborate and network with other chapter leaders, and a chance to work one-on-one with TWLOHA staff. We’re also extending an invitation to student leaders interested in forming a chapter on their campus to join us for this event to ensure they are fully equipped and ready to launch their own chapter. Our hope is to continue the conversation that has been started, to allow our leaders to touch even more lives and to squelch the stigmas associated with mental health on college campuses.
To learn more about the TWLOHA University Chapters Summer Conference 2012, please click here. Please be sure to read all of the information before registering for the event. Space is limited, so we have had to tightly control who is able to attend. Our hope is to see this conference become a strong resource for our chapters and allow it to grow to a larger space for next year to allow more chapter members to attend.
This is the next big step for this program, and we couldn’t be more excited. We truly appreciate all of the support our chapters have given us over the last two and a half years and are inspired to keep growing the program.
My personal hope for the program and the conference is that no one else has to struggle in silence. That no one else has to hide their pain in the glove box of their car.