When I was 19, my life took an unexpected turn that made me rethink all the decisions I had made about my future. In the fall of 2019, I stepped into the halls of a faculty for the first time, feeling super enthusiastic. A child full of dreams, with an optimistic vision of the future; I felt like I could do whatever I set out to do. However, I never had a sharp vision of what I really wanted to do as a job. All I knew was that I wanted to have the power to change something, to do something that mattered. The faculty I had chosen turned out to be the wrong one. In the first months, the expectations did not rise to the preferred standards, and the pressure spoke for itself and brought to the surface all the insecurities I had about myself. Apparently, I was not capable of doing everything I set out to do.

Amid academic problems, family and financial problems resurfaced. I have always been such a sensitive person. Inevitably, all this brought me to the ground. 

I wanted to die.

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After two weeks in the psychiatry unit and after receiving a disturbing diagnosis, I felt useless. The pills made me feel like a vegetable. All this time I was still a student. All this time I was still taking exams. Has the academic situation worsened the situation? Surely, that is why I failed half of the exams. For a long time, I did not want to share the situation I was going through with anyone, so I just kept going like everything was all right. People did not understand. Being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in a country where going to a psychologist is still taboo made me shut myself in and slowly give up everything. I knew I would have to live like this for the rest of my life.

Next: I dropped out of college. I found a job. I enrolled in another college.

Working made me get out of my comfort zone, take control of the situation, and it helped me slowly get back on my feet, so I continued to do this for a year and a half, even though I had to sacrifice academic results this way. I tell myself it was worth it, but who knows?

For me, it is still difficult to keep up with the rest of my colleagues. I have days when I can barely wake up for classes. Depression is part of my routine, and anxiety occurs every time I am in a social circle. I cannot have a conversation or express myself without feeling like everyone is stepping on me. BPD does that.

But my story is in no way unique. Other disorders like depression, anxiety, ADHD, insomnia, bipolar, or PTSD are all remarkably familiar amongst young people. In the process of writing this article, I took the responsibility to pass on the stories of other individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, to better understand the situation. 

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Marina, 24 – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Marina, a former student of Veterinary Medicine at USAMV Cluj-Napoca, has received the ADHD diagnosis after a prolonged battle with the Romanian medical system, which regards ADHD with great skepticism when it comes to adults.

“I started seeing psychiatrists in 2019 after my academic performance suffered significantly and I was determined to get both an official diagnosis and a treatment that would reduce the specific symptoms of ADHD. For reasons such as we can’t diagnose you as an adult, your problem is depression, I don’t think you have ADHD, the same doctor said the test was irrelevant and did not follow any confirmation or refutation of this diagnosis. The next doctor said, with a smile on his face, that all he could do for me was advising me to go to the state psychiatric hospital, where maybe I would be lucky to be tested and taken into consideration because she can’t – though it’s totally legal – diagnose me like that.”

After these disappointing and unpleasant experiences, Marina continued to seek the advice of experienced psychiatrists regarding ADHD in adults, and thus, in 2020, she found a doctor who could help her.  

Marina’s experience in college was not at all easy, compared to her colleagues at the university since she had to go through all the symptoms of ADHD. In her opinion, a student with ADHD will always have to work much harder than his or her peers to get similar results.

“The lack of concentration for more than a few minutes, the inability to attend classes of two, sometimes even four hours on the same subject, the constant need for physical exercise, problems organizing activities, late classes, inadvertent mistakes, forgetting information, as well as communication difficulties, are just some of the symptoms you experience every day as a student with ADHD. All of this turned my academic experience into a nightmare.”

The last two years of college have affected Marina’s mental health beyond measure. Thus, she was forced to give up after four years of study.

Diana, 20 – Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Diana, a Journalism student at the Faculty of Political, Administrative, and Communication Sciences who was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, had to struggle with the difficulties of living with anxiety as a student for the past two years. 

“The daily activities that the student implies become increasingly difficult to accomplish and somehow you become demoralized. You feel that you are not good enough, that you cannot rise to the level of others, or that your life is simply not that of a normal person. Some days you live, and other days it is enough to exist. You feel the pressure of deadlines and exams much stronger. You want to keep everything under control, even things that do not belong to you. You feel exhausted and tired all the time, due to the adrenaline that is secreted in your body in large doses. At the same time, you become more sensitive to how people around you feel. You feel the energies of those around you and you become more susceptible when it comes to the people you should have in your life.”

Diana does not want to give up college, even though the thought of it has crossed her mind many times. Instead, she tries to meditate and think about positive things.

“I have lost a lot of people around me because they feel like I am not being honest when I say what I feel. I only surround myself with people who want the best for me and who want me to flourish. I try to organize my time well, having moments of self-care, such as movies or hot baths. I pray a lot and consider that I have become closer to God and divinity since I have this condition. I find refuge in God. I try to eat healthily and enjoy every day as it comes. A failure always brings you closer to what is meant for you.” 

Consequences of mental disorders in students

Claudia Chiorean, a student counselor at the Faculty of Political, Administrative, and Communication Sciences, in Cluj-Napoca, thinks that when it comes to the student’s condition and performance, it depends very much on the type of mental illness the individual is suffering from. Thus, if it is one of the mental illnesses that involve cognitive impairment, then intellectual performance suffers. If they are emotionally affected, then their activity and daily life will be marked to a greater or lesser extent. For example, a major depressive episode will put the student out of work for a few weeks, as he treats his depression and is supported in this regard. If he/she is not diagnosed and has functional depression, the damage will be felt only by the student, without those around him knowing what suffering their close one is going through and, consequently, not being able to help him. 

”This type of suffering leaves negative effects in time. At the behavioral level, each of the conditions obviously makes its mark. The management of the situation again depends, to a considerable extent, on the type of condition, the severity of the condition, and the way in which it is approached.”

The solutions to treating these conditions are either shorter or long-lasting. A psychologist can be helpful, but sometimes medical help provided by a psychiatrist is also needed. Unlike a psychologist, a psychiatrist can put the mental illness in a general medical context and can offer medicinal solutions for the physiological, chemical/and hormonal balance in the body. 

”Without medical help, many mental illnesses do not resolve or return with much more severity after a brief period of calm.” according to Claudia Chiorean.

School attendance among students with mental disorders

According to a study published by The University of Western Australia in 2019, with the examination of data from the 2013–2014 Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, living with a mental disorder has a significant impact on school attendance, in the sense that those suffering from it have a lower school attendance than the rest of the students. 

”Improving prevention, early intervention, treatment, and management of mental disorders may lead to significant improvements in school attendance.”,  as said by the study.

Mental Disorders can lead to suicidal behavior

Suicide is the third leading cause of mortality worldwide among young people between 10 and 19 years old, according to Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. Mental disorders, especially depression and substance abuse, have been found to be a factor in 70% to 90% of suicides. It has also been reported that 25.3% of individuals who died by suicide had no contact with psychiatric healthcare in the year prior to death. It has been found that 20% of those affected by a mental disorder were under-treated, the reasons for that being the under-detection of symptoms or the fear of stigmatization. 

”Early intervention is key to preventing such adverse consequences and suicide. Early intervention, however, requires early diagnosis, which in turn requires early symptom detection. Symptoms and other telltale signs are more easily detected when objective: the presence of school difficulties is one such sign. Indeed, according to the literature, school difficulties are linked to mental health vulnerability and suicidal behaviors.”, the study says.

Undiagnosed mental disorders not only lead to school dropout but also increase the risk of a suicide attempt.

In Romania, the suicide helpline is available only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, between 19:00 and 07:00. However, there is a special helpline for depression and anxiety, available 24/7.

Why is it so hard for people to seek help?

In Romania, psychiatric consultation is free for those with valid medical insurance. Psychological therapy is also free in some cases, or individuals can benefit from a price reduction to a certain extent based on the health insurance card. However, many people are diagnosed late or never. Reasons for this include social stigma, lack of involvement from the family (in the case of a child or teenager), or fear of a diagnosis.

  1. Social stigma

Student’s counselor, Claudia Chiorean, thinks that one of the most common reasons why people don`t seek help is social stigma. The fear that people will judge is making many afraid to open up about their problems. 

If you live in Romania, you must have read at least one article about a person who committed suicide (or tried to commit suicide). In a considerable number of comments on social media, the readers gave their opinion about how the causes for it include the lack of faith in God, choosing the wrong path, abuse of drugs, victimization, and more. This is an example of how the unhealthy mentality of some Romanians regarding this issue. 

These are the comments regarding a soon-to-be father who killed himself, after battling depression:

For a person suffering from a psychological condition, reading these comments can make the situation worse and may make the person feel unable to ask for help. In this way, a toxic circle is created, in which the uneducated population – regarding mental illness – takes those who suffer to extreme points. Thus, those who do not ask for help cannot receive it, they cannot be treated, and their situation will get worse. Not only strangers but also family members or friends can disregard one’s mental problems, making it harder for the individual (especially for a minor), to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. 

  1. Lack of involvement from the family

Most of the time, a person who suffers from a mental disorder needs help from the family. As a child, you cannot even figure out that something is wrong with you. You are called lazy when it is just your mental problems taking over. Non-involvement from the family, even when the affected person has shown obvious signs, is common, the reason being the lack of education regarding the issue or even denial. This will lead to a delayed diagnosis. 

  1. Fear of a diagnosis

A clear diagnosis stating that you suffer from a mental disorder can be an obstacle when it comes to finding a job or being a part of a social circle, making the affected person disregard his/her own feelings. This behavior is mostly adopted by young adults who prefer to hide their experiences in order to live a “normal” life. 

How can we help?

We help by learning. We help by sharing awareness. We help by being empathic and understanding. We help by being there.

We can see that students suffering from mental illness are much more likely to drop out of school when they can no longer cope with the all-around pressure. A complete treatment, which includes psychotherapy, is vital in such situations, and awareness of these issues is needed not only on a personal level but also on an institutional level. The correct understanding of the situation by the educational institutions can help the young people in question complete their studies, through better communication. Thus, if the problem is detected and treated in time, the student’s potential is maintained at an optimal level.

Romanian Anti-Suicide Helpline: 0800 801 200

Romanian Depression Helpline: 0800 0800 20

Romanian Anxiety Helpline: 0374 456 420

If you have intrusive thoughts and feel like you may hurt yourself, please do not hesitate to use any of these lines, talk to a professional, or open up to someone close to you.

Alina Boboc

Alina Boboc