Hardships of Being Unaware: College Life and Toxic...

Hardships of Being Unaware: College Life and Toxic Relationships

Often when touring college campuses, we simply stroll by countless rooms, offices and resource centers without a second gander. Generally, counseling centers are an afterthought; overlooked as a needed and fundamental resource. By not addressing mental health within the student body, this becomes an “out of sight, out of mind” topic with no discussion present. What a person seldom takes into account while searching for a college or university, is the need to locate counseling services for issues that may arise such as: unexpected life events, toxic relationships and fights for independence by the student body. How one copes with these potential issues can determine one’s college experience. 

Who it can affect

Upon reaching adulthood, one would like to think that they know how to distinguish from healthy and unhealthy relationships — that isn’t always the case. Sexual assault occurs 25% of female students over their college career while 21% of students report dating violence occurring with their current partner.

The other day I caught up with a high school friend and I NEVER would have imagined what she was going to tell me. During the past year, she had started dating someone from her university. At first, things were going well; until he became physically abusive. She then broke things off and tried to go about life as normal. He continued to harass her, as 13% of college students will experience. Things continued to escalate; to the point where she couldn’t leave her room out of fear for her safety and well-being. At this point, she had dropped all but one of her classes and distanced herself from everyone. She was traumatized and didn’t ever seek help for what occurred. I couldn’t believe her journey because I’d never expected it to be her.

That’s the thing though, you NEVER expect it to happen to anyone you may know.

Young adults often feel invincible. We have this optimistic bias that nothing bad will ever occur to us and; sadly that isn’t always the case. A lot of students experience this alone, without any intervention.

Hardships of being unaware

Parents will always try to look out for us, even after we leave the nest. Some parents are involved and want to know everything their child is doing at school even though, legally they cannot simply call the school and ask, thanks to FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

In contrast, other parents struggle to see the importance of their child leaving home to attend a school. Some students opt to attend school out of state or reside in dorms. Living at home, in those cases may prove to be challenging due to deniable independence of the student.

Hardships associated aren’t only school-related, but also culturally related. Collectivist societies often don’t acknowledge mental health as a legitimate issue, which in turn can be trouble for someone experiencing symptoms or distress. You are often told that “it’s all in your head” told to “snap out of it” and to “pull it together.” It can be difficult to seek help when your family doesn’t understand what is occurring and impacting your life.

What can help

Keeping open communication, educating family and others close to you about what is happening; whether you’re being plagued by depression, anxiety, chronic stress or something more difficult like post traumatic stress disorder, are all necessary. Although education is key, not all people will believe or change already known beliefs. Many cultures do not believe in talking about mental health issues; seeing it as a flaw in the person, a punishment from God, or something they’re doing for “attention.”

In a case like that, it’s important to know how to seek out resources apart from family. Keeping a line of communication with counselors, doctors, or even close friends and professors. The most important step is letting your surrounding world know what’s going on, in the event of not being able complete assignments in a timely fashion, focus on studying or socialize normally. 

How to help

Seeking help through university resources or externally will be beneficial. It is critical to always keep in mind that educational institutions should be seen as tools. About 45-50% students abandon college due to mental health problems, but these students also reported not seeking help or services that may be offered on campus. In many instances, these campus resources aren’t being taken advantage of or even considered. 

Don’t forget that being successful is not about just one person’s ability. Rather, about creating a support network of resources and people. Next time you’ve got free time on your hands, walk around campus and take in the resources available. Locate different offices, introduce yourself and make a mental note. Even if you never seek out help yourself, having the knowledge may help a classmate out in the future.

Never think of yourself as invincible; always know there’s help available.

Photo Courtesy of Her Campus

("Mouth" painting. Courtesy of Danor Shtruzman)


About Lesly Guzman

Current college student at NEIU in Chicago, Illinois, future psychologist that serves the world. Self proclaimed Xicana and also feminist (an oh so controversial topic in today's world). I am majoring in psychology with a minor in child advocacy studies and plan to work with minority adolescents and children. Topics of importance to me range from inner city violence (present in Chicago), the importance of funding education (or lack of in my institution's case), to issues of identity, what it means to be a first generation college student, religion and culture, along with the utter most important topic of mental health. I challenge myself in my learning, in my views, and hope I may do the same in a positive manner for those I reach. I plan to help change the world one day, even if it takes a lifetime.