As a college student, I can attest to the importance of mental health awareness. With the pressures of exams, deadlines, and looming job searches constantly overhead it can be easy to slip into an unhealthy state of stress, with anxiety clinging to you even more closely than the clothes on your shoulders.
Luckily, with increased awareness surrounding mental health issues, universities have sought to provide solutions and guidance, from medical counseling to therapy animals. I have found these systems of outreach and programs for awareness incredibly helpful. I also wish I’d had access to them sooner.
It is true that many young adults struggle with their mental health—according to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 30% of individuals aged 18-25 experienced some form of mental health issue, and approximately 1 in 5 of all U.S adults claim to experience mental illness each year. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue for many, with forced isolation and increased online interaction leaving many feeling worse than before.
Given the independence that comes with being in this age demographic, it is relatively easy to seek out treatment of your own volition, or to learn the best practices to reduce the problem. It is in this mentality, however, that the problem lies.
Too often, mental health treatment is reactive, with the decision to take action occurring well after the issue has begun. Half of all lifetime mental illness begins by the age of 14, but the current system views teenagers as the starting point for addressing potential problems, leaving children who are already years into their issues with few options other than to wait.
Half of all US children with a treatable mental disorder do not receive treatment from a mental health professional, according to a study by JAMA Pediatrics. This lack of treatment can impede a healthy transition into adulthood, meaning that by the time the individuals themselves understand they need help it can be too late, or at least far too down the line. Speaking from personal experience, I wish that mental health awareness had been normalized for me at a much younger age.
When I was first diagnosed with alopecia at age 12, I had not really thought very much about the implications. I had small bald patches and extremely matted hair brushes, sure, but I could always count on the loss’s lack of severity and the thickness of the rest of my hair to cloak the more unsightly areas.
Of course sometimes when under particularly high amounts of stress it would worsen, but never to a point of being concerning—to my 12-year-old self, this meant not addressing the root causes of the issue. Nor was I told to, with most advice ranging from “chill out” to “don’t drink caffeine.” I believed I would go about my life with the relationship staying that way, the condition being more of a nuisance than anything else. That was until my senior year of high school.
Between intense college applications, debate expectations, and an overall inclination towards perfectionism, the stress in my life had in many ways become unbearable. I had not learned adequate coping mechanisms for the stressors of life, and was therefore wholly unprepared for the natural ups and downs which adulthood brings. I lost all of my hair for over a year.
I tried so desperately to cling to the idea of things getting better when I just no longer had to be anxious or stressed, but it was this mentality that did me in. In the act of othering these very normal emotions, I was making my situation worse. Yet no part of my schooling had ever truly indicated to me that these emotions were okay, particularly not when I was younger.
It took too many years and too much hair loss for an idea to finally get through to me: Stress will always be there. Worry will always be there. Fear, anxiety, and concern never permanently “go away.” They are our lifelong partners, inseparably stuck to the human condition. Since this understanding, I have learned ways to manage anxious thoughts and feelings, and understand when it is important to seek out help from others.
My story is not unique, as there are countless students my age who spent too long not prioritizing their mental health, or who were not aware of the tools available to do so.
This is a lesson that must be accessed earlier, and Big Head Bob is the teacher I wish I’d had when I was younger. Youth-focused preventative strategies for mental health have proven to be successful, according to the International Journal of Mental Health Systems, and Big Head Bob’s interactive lessons make caring about your mental health fun. He removes the stigma around mental health for children, helping them to not view their problems as intrinsically different from themselves.
Acknowledging my own big head took many years— Big Head Bob ensures future generations have the necessary skills to face whatever comes their way, all while being engaging and entertaining. Even as a college student, I am happy to have Big Head Bob’s lessons in my life.