inSIDER NOTE: This is part of a continuing series on mental health issues and Minnesota State University, Mankato students who share their path to discovery, recovery and personal achievement.
By JENAE CAREY, CSU Public Relations Intern
For Alex Schmit, finding the silver lining in life’s tough situations can be a key to coping with a mental health disorder.
Now in his second year at Minnesota State University, Mankato, that key helped open a college experience that initially felt confined to the four walls of his residence hall room.
“I turned my dorm room into a prison cell,” he says.
Dealing with anxiety and depression that started surfacing in high school, Schmit said his early days of college sent him on an unhealthy path. He surrounded himself with people that weren’t helping his mental health. He started picking up some unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with his mental state.
‘All of a sudden you look down and you aren’t who you were a year ago. You don’t know why and you can’t focus on anything long enough to fix it.’ALEX SCHMIT
During that time he rarely left his dorm room where he spent his time playing video games. He stopped going to class and doing his homework because he lost interest in nearly everything.
Schmit said he was also experiencing the physical side effects not always associated with mental health disorders. During his first year of college, he found himself gaining almost four times the infamous “freshman fifteen.”
“All of a sudden you look down and you aren’t who you were a year ago. You don’t know why and you can’t focus on anything long enough to fix it,” says Schmit.
He came to realize that life was very different from his high school years as an athlete.
High School Years
In high school, Schmit was dedicated to his swim team. He was a charismatic teenager with a large social circle. After dealing with some challenging personal events, he quit the swim team his senior year of high school.
After he quit, Schmit quickly realized he was using the sport he was once passionate about, as a coping mechanism to deal with his anxiety and depression.
“I thought that if I stopped interacting with people all together, they wouldn’t think of me, period.”
As time passed, he realized he was pulling away from his normal social and involved lifestyle. He went from a very outwardly social person to eating lunch by himself and pulling away from his friends and family.
Social anxiety started guiding his life.
It reached a point where he was so anxious about what others thought about him that he completely cut himself off.
“I thought that if I stopped interacting with people altogether, they wouldn’t think of me, period,” Schmit said. “I realized after having that thought that something a lot bigger than I expected was going on. It was a lot more serious,” he says.
After graduating high school, he didn’t know what to expect when he came to college. He wishes he would have known the reality of college life before he came to Mankato.
Schmit struggled finding his identity in college.
“I didn’t have an identity for a while. The social aspect of college is so different. You have to build your own identity and establish yourself,” he said. “This is something that can be tough for a lot of students, especially those who are trying to figure out where they belong on campus.
Finding the Key for Coping
After reaching rock bottom and realizing he needed medical help, Schmit said things took an upward path. He joined groups around campus including a fraternity.
“If you reach out for help, people aren’t going to judge you. It was eye-opening to me how understanding people are,” Schmit said. “You can have open conversations about mental health now and that’s amazing.”
Schmit describes different ways he deals with situations that challenge his mental health.
“I have friends that I can just Snapchat a paragraph to if I’m having a tough time. They’ll just listen to me and it makes me feel a lot better,” Schmit says.
Stepping out and getting involved is another way of combating feelings of isolation.
“There are 250 Registered Student Organizations on campus! You will fit in somewhere. Just show up,” Schmit said.
Another key to personal health is help offered by the University’s Counseling Center located on the upper level of the Centennial Student Union.
Students can seek free counseling as a valuable resource to mental wellness.
“I’ve been there a few times myself and they are amazing. It’s definitely a great resource.” he said.
Whatever the circumstance, Schmit said help – whether personal friends or professional counselors – is the key toward combating mental health disorders. It’s a silver lining for a happier tomorrow.
*** If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. ***