If you are a Forest Park student with a mental illness, be sure you know your rights. If you don’t know your rights, make an appointment with an Access Office counselor right away to discuss them.
You may qualify for extra time on tests or extensions on assignments. You may be able to use a tape recorder in class and possibly get a note taker.
I am passionate about mental-health issues, and I have had many friends diagnosed with mental illnesses. Some feel comfortable sharing their stories, and some prefer keeping them private. I support both approaches.
Keeping it private
Be aware and keep in mind that you are not your illness, whether it be unipolar depression, bipolar depression, season affect disorder, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, Asperger’s syndrome or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
You are not obliged or obligated to tell anyone about it, except for mental health and medical professionals, close family members and a significant other.
Of course, you can describe the nature of your illness or how you feel — tired, fatigued, hyper, energetic, low, high, happy, sad, confused, elated, paranoid, giddy, up or down – without going into all the details of your diagnosis.
You can share information on a need-to-know basis. If you have to miss class or you act inappropriately and offend someone, an explanation might be needed to avoid a misunderstanding.
Remember that you are a capable person in some ways, if not all ways, and the college allows you to choose whatever subject you want to study.
Use your illness as an advantage.
You may decide to become a nurse if you can work with people in a hospital setting. You may enjoy greater focus in a biology lab. You may want to use your creativity as a graphic designer or photographer.
The culture does not allow you to talk about your illness all the time – just keep the diagnosis to yourself and try to live and achieve beyond its confines.
Putting yourself through the pain of feeling naked about the way your mind was created is not worth the agony of the stigma.
Sharing your story
Another approach is being vociferous and letting everyone know that you have a disability.
Start with small steps: Try to bring it up in class discussion. Try to feel comfortable talking about feelings, whenever appropriate. Speak out if you have something to add to the conversation.
No need to be discrete, and if you mess up, try to rationalize what you have done. Explain that you have a mental illness. Give yourself chances to get things right.
Do not stifle your ability or creativity by staying silent. Embrace your diagnosis and enjoy the benefits of being open.
Go step by step. Every day is a new day.
Talking about one’s illness can be quite normal. Do not limit the discussion to your friends and professors. Talk to a counselor on the Forest Park campus.
It is also encouraged that you see a psychiatrist, social worker or off-campus counselor. They can teach you when to bring your illness up in public or how to utilize your diagnosis.
Simultaneously, explore your interests at the college and have fun with other students, talking about classes, politics, pop culture and what is going on in your life, including your illness when appropriate.
It should not be used as a crutch, but instead a propeller to help you reach your dreams and goals.
No matter what …
We all have to be careful about assumptions. Just as we can not assume one’s gender identity, religion or political leanings, we have to take things face value.
No one should really care about your mental illness, but by revealing yourself, you may find out who your real friends are.
Your support system should definitely include friends and significant others, too.
Focus on your ability – not your disability — and choose a line of coursework that allows you to do that.
Talk regularly to your Access counselor.
Finally, remember that you have a choice: Keep it private or share your story. Either way, be yourself.