May is mental health month and it coincides with end of the academic year, which can be an extremely challenging and stressful time for students. We often hear from our students how grateful they are to have a mentor who were in their shoes recently and get the struggle they’re going through.
We asked Katie Fong (BA, Stanford ‘22), a Curious Cardinal Mentor, about her thoughts on the matter. She reflects back at the four things she wished her parents had known about her mental health in high school to support her better. Read her reflections below.
1. Doing well in school doesn’t mean that I’m doing okay
I was a high-achieving student, involved with everything from musicals, speech, debate, and varsity swimming–all while maintaining a challenging course load. While nothing had changed performance-wise, on the inside, I felt like I was suffocating. I needed someone to check in on me, ask how I was really doing, and listen to my worries without criticism. I knew my parents loved me, but at times I was afraid of not living up to their and my expectations that I let myself believe I could simply improve my mental health by continuing to achieve in everything I did.
2. My mental health struggles are not your fault (or mine)
When I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, my parents jumped to the rescue. They started blaming themselves and asking what they could’ve done better or sooner. In focusing on their own shortcomings and mistakes, they made my struggles about them, instead of listening my needs. Let go of your guilt and your shame. Mental illness is biopsychosocial–meaning while my brain is predisposed to deal with things like depression and anxiety, my struggles rose from a variety of different factors.
3. My mental health isn’t something that can be “fixed”
Mental illness is something I live with, it’s not a choice. I have learned to manage it with therapy, coping skills, and a strong support system, but it will always be a part of me. I find that an appropriate reaction from parents is not to problem-solve, but to listen without judgment and love me unconditionally, even if the problem-solving comes from an intent of care.
4. I am more than my mental illness
This is a reminder for myself and my parents. While struggling with mental illness has not been easy, it has made me into a person who is resilient, creative, empathetic, and powerful. Mental illness is part of my life, but it does not determine my worth or limit my dreams.