Dear Incoming Freshmen, The Pursuit Of Perfection In College Will Kill You


Depression runs in my family, and it was somewhat inevitable that I would eventually have to deal with it. But it wasn’t until I actually had started college, across the country from my friends and family, that I realized something was entirely wrong with my mental health.

I was perpetually in a state of stress and anxiety over everything, and it drained me so viciously, that there were times where I couldn’t even get up to go to class. I had to physically force myself to socialize with people I loved. I would switch from binge-eating to not eating anything at all; battling bouts of severe insomnia for days on end, until I could barely stay awake for over 90 minutes.

Between the mountain of studying I was putting off, the pressure I would put on myself to go out and socialize to seem “normal” and my body’s disgust over my strict diet of strawberry Pop-Tarts—I felt really, really alone.

There is this weird stigma about mental illness on college campuses that absolutely needs to be obliterated, so that students feel more open and welcoming to seek professional help.

Suicide among young adults (15-24) has tripled since the 1950s, and is recognized as the second most common cause of death among college and university students in the U.S.

Approximately 7.5 per 100,000 students commit suicide per year. One in 12 students have actually formulated a suicidal plan at one point in their collegiate careers, and the overall emotional health of college freshmen has declined to the lowest point recorded in 25 years.

Often, the students who commit or contemplate suicide are not the ones you’d expect. The idea that those who are isolated and uninvolved in campus life are more prone to depression than others is completely false.

Society’s minimization of how trying mental illness can be damages many already fragile students. We have platforms such as Tumblr, which infuriatingly paints mental illness to be synonymous with “mysterious,” “haunting,” and “fascinating.”

Brandy Melville even produced a crop top with “Stressed, Depressed, But Well Dressed” printed on it.

(*Note @Brandy Melville, it should read: “Stressed, Depressed, And Not Even Remotely Well Dressed R U Kidding Me, I Haven’t Even Showered In Over 72 Hours.” Might be less charming at parties, but it’s accurate!!!!!!)

The outlandish expectations set up for college students—whether rooted in competitiveness, acceptance, or the economy—are incredibly detrimental and real.

And no blog post that accurately describes what it feels like to go through depression is going to neatly fit in Helvetica font, printed over a black and white photo of a girl smoking a cigarette.

With students competing over who slept the least the night before, who feels the most stressed out, or who most feels like they’ve overdosed on someone else’s Adderall prescription, mental health is romanticized to a dangerous extent.

There is a demand for students to be perfect in every academic, extra curricular, and social endeavor they encounter during these four years. And this perception of perfection manifests into an inhumane amount of pressure that contorts even the smallest slip-ups and mistakes into life-shattering monstrosities.

Stanford University recently dubbed this problem the “Duck Syndrome”: a duck seems to effortlessly glide across the water, but beneath the surface, it frantically scrambles to keep moving.

What’s twisted is, almost everybody finds themselves in the Duck Syndrome scenario, but nobody is willing to talk about it.

It took me almost two years of college before I was so overwhelmed with terror and panic, that I had to tell my parents. My first thought was that it would disappoint them. That because I was depressed, I was a failure.

And social media makes it worse. We constantly compare ourselves to what seems to take place on a screen; forgetting that all we’re actually seeing is the duck on the surface of the water.

America has created this demand for hyper-achievement in college students, unleashing a clusterfuck of insane adolescents who are laser-point focused on success, without understanding that it’s ok to fail.

We aren’t strengthened by this method of competitiveness, we’re being strangled by it.

As young adults, we shouldn’t be lying in our beds, staring at the ceiling fan in our dorm room at 2pm, with the lights off and the blinds down, wondering whether or not our existence matters in the world.