Photo essay by Rachael Long
Over the past 16 weeks, I have interviewed and photographed the lives of Southeast students who struggle with depression and anxiety. They have shared their innermost thoughts and let me document a darker side of themselves. They are in your classes, on your campus, and they're just like you. Depression and anxiety are the most common complaints brought to Southeast counselors. These are the stories of just some of the students who deal with sickness of the brain and live with the impacts of its stigma.
Rebecca Gangemella is a junior double-majoring in multimedia journalism and dance. She was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety before high school. Her mother and grandmother also have experienced depression in their lives, so she knew to be on the lookout for it. When she reached Southeast, Gangemella said the stress of being away from home and dealing with physical injuries worsened her depression. Now, she sees a community counselor regularly and takes medication as needed to keep her symptoms under control.
"It's been important for me to tell my story because this could help somebody." -R.G.
ALCOHOL + DEPRESSION
Ezekiel "Zeke" Hickson is a recent graduate of Southeast who has experienced anxiety and depression from a young age. By the time he was 14 years old, Hickson knew he was a little different. It wasn't until he was 21 that Hickson said he knew for certain that he was depressed. Although he said he's never been a "big drinker," Hickson knows that alcohol can have disastrous effects on a person's mental health. Because all your emotions and mannerisms are heightened when you're under the influence, Hickson said, alcohol can make an already depressed or anxious person lose control even more. Hickson said he keeps that thought in the back of his mind when he goes out for a "social drink" with friends, and that way he can always stay in control.
"The most important thing [after a night of drinking] is what happens the next day: the hangover." -Zeke Hickson.
MEDICATION...DOES IT HELP OR HURT?
Bailey Bliss is a senior at Southeast who has dealt with anxiety and a panic disorder since high school. Much of her anxiety she attributes to the loss of her mother to ovarian cancer when she was just 12 years old. Back then, she saw a counselor and took medicines to treat her anxiety but found that the medicines only made her symptoms worse. After trying "a slew" of medicines, Bliss said she decided it wasn't the right course of healing for her.
"I decided that I was going to control it on my own terms. Sometimes I have bad days and sometimes, you know, I get anxious over random sh*t and it's hard to get out of bed, but I'd rather be like this then be on medication." -Bailey Bliss
Gangemella said an anxiety attack can happen to her at any time, and usually begins when she feels a pressure building in her chest. The anxiety shuts her down, and her body experiences traumatic, shock-like symptoms such as trouble breathing, shaking, crying and heightened emotions. During an anxiety attack, Gangemella said she doesn't feel like herself.
"It literally turns me into someone that I hate and someone I don't want to be," -Rebecca Gangemella
Hickson said he has to mentally prepare himself for most social interactions. If he hasn't had the time to think about it before he goes out, Hickson said he becomes anxious and uncomfortable with his surroundings. If he sees a friend at the grocery store, Hickson said he'll do whatever he can to avoid an interaction with that person. In this way, Hickson said he often purposely isolates himself from others to avoid situations that exacerbate his anxiety.
"It's an invisible illness, which for the longest time, people have had to deal with on their own." -Zeke Hickson
Many students who deal with anxiety and depression feel like there is a stigma that surrounds mental illnesses. For example, Gangemella said she has missed class before for "not feeling well," when in fact she was having a really bad day of depression or anxiety. She added that she doesn't feel like most professors would excuse her from class for a mental illness, but it would be much easier to do so if she were sick with the flu.
"The thing is, when you have a mental illness, it tends to affect the rest of your body." -Rebecca Gangemella
HAPPINESS, IN SPITE
Caleb Hembree is a senior at Southeast who says he is generally very happy. Despite his cheerful nature, Hembree said he deals with anxiety in his everyday life. Some of the symptoms he most frequently experiences are constant overthinking which causes him to be more reserved around others as well as sleep paralysis. Hembree has not sought the help of counseling services or medication to control his anxiety but prefers to deal with it by simply being in tune with himself.
"I'm happily depressed. I don't think anybody is just everyday like bright, sunshine and rainbows." -Caleb Hembree
AGENCY + RESOURCES
Counseling and Disabilities Services licensed professional counselor Donna St. Sauver said it's of utmost importance to be in touch with your own mental state. She added that depression and anxiety are the most reported complaints to Counseling and Disabilities Services, which saw 129 students who reported experiencing anxiety and 96 who reported experiencing depression in the last fiscal year. St. Sauver said being self-reflective is the best way to empower yourself to reach methods of healing, an idea Gangemella has found to be true herself.
"You're not admitting defeat. You're actually more victorious by doing [counseling]." Rebecca Gangemella.
FACES OF THE BRAIN SICKNESS PROJECT