Why people should prioritize mental health above all else

by Emily Goodell

Your mental health is more important than your grades. It is more important than your future. It is even more important than your physical health. Why?

Because caring for your mental health is the foundation for achieving good grades, being successful in the future, and maintaining physical health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 has a diagnosable mental illness. This means that Whitworth, which has an undergraduate population of around 2,346 students, has approximately 586 students on this campus may have a mental illness.

Mental health is the most important health consideration during your years at college. This is a formative time; you are all alone, having new experiences, getting out in the world. This means you have a lot of stress and worry about the future. Not seeking out mental health resources is detrimental to you.

If you are hesitant to believe that you have issues with mental health, it may be because of the stigma regarding mental health issues and seeking treatment for them. NAMI statistics show that more than 40 percent of college students feel more than an average amount of stress. More than 80 percent of students feel overwhelmed and 45 percent have felt that things were hopeless. This goes to show that even if you do not have a diagnosable mental illness, you still may not be mentally healthy.

If you currently have good mental health, that does not mean it is going to stay that way. Anything can happen to affect your mental health, including trauma, stress or changes in your life, as well as possibly developing a mental illness later on in life. Prioritizing it now gives you ways to manage future obstacles.

Whether you have a diagnosable mental illness, are struggling with mental health, or are in good mental health, mental health is important. It is more important than everything because of the dire consequences that can occur from not taking care of your mental health.

Last year was a difficult year for me. I was taking a full load and was stressed and overwhelmed with trying to keep up with those obligations. The toll that stress took on my body was significant. I was so busy and stressed that I was getting less than six hours of sleep a night, and sometimes less than four.

Think of your body (physical health) as a ship, and your brain (mental health) as the captain.”

Last spring, I ended up coming down with a double ear infection and a sinus infection simultaneously. Then I added bronchitis on top of that. From that, I developed pneumonia. I was unable to get out of bed. I had to be taken to the urgent care center, the emergency room and a family physician. I was out of school, work and my extracurriculars for weeks. Due to the nature of pneumonia, I was unable to participate fully in anything for the rest of the school year. Months later, I am still not 100 percent.

According to the Mayo Clinic, when you are stressed, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, which is a response from your adrenal gland. Adrenaline pumps through your body, much like it does when you are attacked or feel threatened. This overuse of the adrenal gland can lead to immune system problems.

That is what happened to me. After months of being in a constant state of adrenaline, my immune system was weakened and had trouble fighting infections. The more stress I had, the sicker I became, and the sicker I became, the more stressed I was. This cycle spiraled until I ended up in the hospital.

Stress is a mental health issue. So are anxiety and depression, symptoms that many college students experience, according to NAMI. The American College Health Association reported that in 2011, students said the main issues impeding their academic performance were anxiety and depression.

Think of your body (physical health) as a ship, and your brain (mental health) as the captain. If there is no captain, the ship will not move. If the captain is sick, the ship will not move well and is in danger of sinking. In order to navigate difficult waters (your future, academics), you need to be ship-shape.

In order to do anything, you need to take care of your mental health. To do that, you need to know how.

Receiving help for mental health issues does not mean that you have a diagnosable mental illness, and having a diagnosed mental illness does not mean that you cannot succeed in college. What will prevent you from succeeding, diagnosis or not, is lacking proper mental health care.

Whitworth provides a number of resources for students. There is the counseling center, the Marriage and Family Wellness center and the Student Success team.

You can talk to your adviser, reach out to a friend or practice meditation. If you are stressed out and not sleeping, you can skip class for a day to rest. You can hammock, read or binge-watch a show on Netflix. Sometimes you need a break. Sometimes you need help. That is ok. What is not ok is not taking care of yourself.