Editor’s note: This story is the last in a series chronicling mental health issues on a college campus through a central character, a UNC junior who asked to keep her real name private. Sara Salinas, a reporter for The Daily Tar Heel who knows “Charlotte” personally, is following her as she navigates her diagnosis and takes steps to find help throughout the semester.
Charlotte is seeing the sky again.
The anxiety that had been forcing her eyes to the ground has faded, and she’s looking up.
“If you know (her) at all, she’s the kind of person that sees beauty in everything and even the weirdest things that no one else thinks are beautiful,” said Regan Buchanan, one of Charlotte’s close friends. “She realized that for so long she was in this really dark place where she was incapable of doing the thing that made her so unique and so happy.”
It took Charlotte a semester to get here. She sought help for her anxiety and attention deficit disorder from Counseling and Psychological Services in January, started prescription antidepressants in February, began seeing a therapist in March and appealed for a University-approved underload in April.
“The whole semester has seemed pretty surreal to me,” Charlotte said. “I’ve never taken this time to figure things out and now that I have, I don’t feel like a different person, I just feel more like myself.”
Charlotte said she’s finally struck a balance in her mental health care. She’s found solutions for her ADD through therapy, settled on a prescribed combination of antidepressants and Adderall and made conscious choices both academically and socially to improve her mental health.
Buchanan said she’s proud of her friend’s commitment to getting healthy, which has inspired those around her to do the same.
“Not only is she improving her own mental health, but then she’s also been able to be there for me when I really had a hard time,” Buchanan said. “That shows so much growth that not only are you getting yourself better, but you’re also willing to share your experiences and your knowledge with other people.”
The demographics of a college campus pose a challenge to addressing mental health, CAPS Director Allen O’Barr said. With 28,000 students, many of them buckling under academic and social pressures, he said UNC is largely a network of unbalanced people all relying on each other.
“It’s amazing how one well balanced person can settle that entire crowd,” O’Barr said. “One wise individual in the crowd can really provide an anchor for multiple people … But it takes a lot of work to be an anchor because unbalanced energy is contagious and calm is not.”
Since Charlotte began addressing her mental health, she’s encouraged those around her to do the same.
“You don’t have to accept anything less than what makes you happy — that’s what (Charlotte’s) taught me,” Buchanan said. “Your well-being and your happiness are really important, and you should demand that from yourself and from other people that you’re around because you deserve it.”
Buchanan has been seeing a therapist at CAPS for about a month and has seen improvement in her own anxiety. She said she wouldn’t have gone to CAPS without Charlotte’s encouragement.
Both Buchanan and Charlotte said their friendships helped stabilize their mental health this semester and that they’ll be equally important moving forward.
A new semester could bring new challenges for Charlotte. But she said this semester has given her the tools she needs to stay balanced.
Charlotte said periodically checking in with herself is key to maintaining her mental health. Though she may need to tweak the balance down the road, she said everything is finally coming together.
“I feel like I used to again,” Charlotte said. “I feel like I can experience my life fully again.”
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