Ask Emily:

The Center for Students in Recovery in SSA 14.270, provides a safe space for students to open up. Photo by Bhavan Mehta | Mercury Staff

Mental health advice from one student to another

If you and your friend both struggle with mental health issues, how do you balance being there for each other while also taking care of yourself? – Lovingly Here

Lovingly, boundaries can be hard to set, especially with someone you care about. However, they are imperative to a healthy relationship. When two friends struggle with mental illness, they can either build up or tear down each other. On the one hand, knowing that the other person has been where you are and experienced similar feelings can breed feelings of connection and understanding. In other cases, though, sharing a struggle can lead to spiraling and competition and shame. Keeping a friendship healthy takes work, whether there are common struggles or not. Even acknowledging that it could be hard to keep the balance between support for the other and yourself is a good step.

Another aspect is knowing your own limits. If you are both having a hard day, leaning on each other could lead to a downward spiral of shame and “shoulds.” It is important to not be each other’s only support person, but rather have a whole network of friends or family to lean on. If you find that they are your only support person, ask yourself who else in your life you can begin cultivating deeper relationships with. Don’t be scared to take other relationships to a deeper level by sharing struggles with them. Getting the help you need, whether that be seeing a therapist at the Student Counseling Center or dropping by at the Center of Students in Recovery for a weekly group, is also necessary. In addition to this, it may be helpful to sit down and talk about what you are each comfortable with. This must always be an ongoing conversation as both people learn and grow through their own recovery.

Where can I open up to people about my deeper stress and issues, when I haven’t developed deep enough relationships for such vulnerability? – Jade

It’s great that you’re wanting to form those deeper connections and seek more intimate relationships. In an ideal world, we would be able to have a strong support system at the snap of a finger. However, the reality is that opening up to friends and family can get messy and chaotic. I know I feel more comfortable opening up to someone when they have been vulnerable to me. I try to remember this when sharing issues with others — that maybe by telling them my struggles they are more likely to ask me for help when they need it. It’s scary to start taking steps towards deeper relationships. It can feel like uncharted territory. However, with time and intention it does get easier.

UTD also has great on-campus resources for those who are struggling, regardless of whether it’s stress from school or diagnosable depression or anxiety. The Center for Students in Recovery is a safe space where students can participate in peer-led support groups, study time and recovery planning.

The CSR’s student workers are often just hanging out and studying in the main lounge, and this is a great place to go to begin forming relationships and get things off your chest.

In addition to the CSR, the Student Counseling Center provides students with crisis counseling and recurring therapy sessions. However, if this seems intimidating, the SCC opened up a location in Residence Hall North where you can get free 15 minute drop-in sessions. Although these are ways to connect and be vulnerable in more professional settings, they can help pave the way to deeper relationships with friends as you learn that people can be trusted and your feelings are allowed to take up space. 

How do I overcome overeating? – Hani Ramsey

Hani, “overeating” has many meanings to different people, however it is commonly known as eating more food than what your body needs to be satiated. It often stems from either a physiological or mental restriction of food. Nutrition therapist Elyse Resch and dietician Evelyn Tribole wrote the book “Intuitive Eating,” which is a guide to moving towards a healthy relationship with food. It emphasizes both listening to your body’s physical and mental hunger cues, as well as taking into account gentle nutrition and social situations. It plays off the idea that sometimes you’ll just eat a cookie because a friend made it, but then find yourself turning down ice cream later because it just doesn’t sound good.  This methodology centers around the idea that our bodies know what we need. In the framework of “Intuitive Eating,” overeating is often seen as a part of the diet/restrict and overeat/binge cycle. What happens is someone starts out with the goal to lose weight and thus goes on a diet, either restricting different food groups or caloric intake as a whole. This restriction signals the body to go into starvation mode, where metabolism slows and the mind becomes fixated on food (for more on starvation, look up the Minnesota Starvation Study). This then leads to an episode of overeating, or binge eating, which is followed by shame, guilt and self-deprecation. Then the cycle starts all over again.

In saying all of this, I hope you can have some grace for yourself. Tuning into and trying to listen to your body can be empowering. In addition to “Intuitive Eating,” the Student Wellness Center is a great resource for learning about how to promote your health through food. It even has a registered dietitian. It is located in the Student Services Building 4.5, and often holds events where students can learn how to take care of their bodies and foster a positive relationship with food. Ultimately, remember that how you (or anyone else) eats is not indicative of your worth or value.

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