In a bedroom off campus, University of South Florida sophomore Will Laurie scrolled through Instagram when suddenly, something in him didn't feel right. He got up and started pacing the room, his body shaking. He was scared. Walking back and forth as his breath became sporadic, he searched his mind for something that would soothe this frantic feeling. Laurie was having a panic attack.
Laurie had been experiencing small episodes of anxiety and panic attacks during the previous eight months, starting in April 2017 during the spring semester of his Freshman year. In the same month Come Out of The Dark, USF's student lead mental health organization, held its first annual "Out of the Darkness Walk" which Laurie attended. That was his first interaction with the group before becoming a regular attendee a year later in Spring 2018, and then the treasurer in Fall 2018.
Come Out of the Dark was born in 2014 from a grassroots campaign to create positive conversation about depression but eventually refocused on mental health as a whole to raise awareness and encourage science-based dialogue to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
With 40 million U.S. adults suffering from an anxiety disorder, 75 percent of them experience their first episode of anxiety by the age of 22. Lack of money, loneliness, changing schools, stress, and social, cultural or academic expectations are all experiences that college students are exposed to. These are also environmental factors that can contribute to mental health problems.
While anxiety and depression rank as the most common, other types of mental health issues students might experience are eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, struggles with identity, self-harm, bipolar disorder, addiction, and suicide. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported that 80 per cent of students feel stress on a daily basis, and while some stress during college is expected, continuous stress can lead to more serious and harmful issues. While the conversation around mental health is growing, so is the number of college students experiencing mental health problems.
According to a study by the Penn State University Centre for Collegiate Mental Health, the number of students seeking mental health support jumped 50 per cent between 2015 and 2016. Therapy is one of the best actions one can take to manage their mental health, but with many Florida universities having around 2,000 students to one counselor, students may not be able to access it as much as they would like. Therefore students are finding other ways to manage and cope.
Activities like yoga and meditation have become more common on campus, as well as meeting groups like USF's Come Out of the Dark, Active Minds, and QTPOC & Coffee. Laurie's love for music motivated him to recently host a Come Out of the Dark meeting discussing mental health's influence on hip-hop and its artists, and vice versa.
"Hearing Kid Cudi and Kanye West talk about their personal struggles on KIDS SEE GHOSTS helped me realize that I could easily talk about music and mental health," said Laurie.
For someone that struggled with major self-esteem issues growing up, Laurie found confidence and assurance in Kanye West's music and overt ego. "I didn't start listening to hip-hop until my sophomore year of high school. However, it had an instant effect on my psyche," said Laurie.
After Laurie's big panic attack, he feel into a month long depression. He often felt numb and would listen to music to pass the time. One of Kanye West's darker albums, 808's & Heartbreak, explores themes of heartache, loss, conflict, pain, and guilt. Listening to something so raw and honest helped Laurie acknowledging his own feelings and helped him feel less lonely in his struggle.
"I'm not sure if it's just the music that helps but it's also the time, listening through the whole album and relating to those feelings, then moving on to other music, eventually I wouldn't feel as bad," said Laurie.
Root Christophersen, another USF student who has previously studied audio production, used to work with children with disabilities and used music to calm them and help them become motivated to do tasks they found difficult.
"Using music they enjoy or even introducing them to new sounds can help them to expand their thinking and cognitive functions, going 'outside the box' of their current mental state without having to move physically," said Christophersen.
With a strong passion for music, Christophersen also uses it for his own self-therapy. "Relating to and communing with artists that speak truth about real-world occurrences/events helps me to remember and realize deeper that I am not the only one who goes through experiences, that we are all connected in many ways, and more alike than different."
Experiencing a new schooling environment can be a challenge for anyone, but for British exchange student, Dani Cowell, that change also comes with unusual cultures, social rules, different weather, a change from UK to U.S. English, and new academic expectations. She has spent the last two months meeting new people and adjusting to American culture and life as a USF Bull.
"I've been pretty homesick, which is normal but it's hard to manage without the support system of friends and family that I'm used to having," said Cowell.
The English Major has suffered from depression on-and-off for the last few years and has been using drawing and music as coping mechanisms since arriving. "It helps me to focus and concentrate on what I'm feeling," said Cowell. "I love listening to songs by Young The Giant, Hippo Campus and Lorde, they make me feel better."