Emma Gorczyca has struggled with depression and anxiety since she was 16. Now 22, she’s been battling with her mental health for six years.
Emma, a fifth year psychology major at West Chester University, manages her mental health in a variety of ways, most notably, medication and therapy. Even though she has several useful tools and years of experience in battling her depression and anxiety, Emma’s mental health still has a negative impact on her education. Her anxiety has “definitely affected [her] attendance,” she says, while her depression gives her trouble with completing assignments and keeping track of due dates.
When asked if her professors have been accommodating of her struggles with attendance and assignments, she was happy to note that “they’ve all been really kind and understanding,” inviting her to catch up at office hours and allowing extensions on assignments. Emma also mentioned, however, that she does not always talk to her professors to ask for extensions, explaining that it can be “embarrassing.” Her anxiety makes her believe that her professors will look down on her, but again mentioned that whenever she has asked for help, they’ve been more than happy to accommodate her.
Academics aren’t the only part of her college experience that is impacted by her mental health. She is also involved in “a professional women’s music fraternity,” Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI), which she joined in the fall of 2019. There, she has served as both a service coordinator (2020–2021) and treasurer (2021–2022).
As service coordinator, she has hosted several opportunities for other members of her fraternity to help the community, including a meal drive for a local homeless shelter and a book drive. Although Emma says she was “at [her] lowest, mentally” when she was service coordinator, she claims she performed her tasks better, because “it gave [her] something to focus on other than school.” After serving as the service coordinator for a year, Emma was nominated for the position of treasurer for SAI. Although she was no longer at her “lowest” mentally, Emma explained she still excelled in that position, as being in a higher role allowed her more support from her sisters, such as needed words of encouragement and close friendships.
When asked if her mental illnesses had any other negative impact on her extracurriculars she could describe, she said it has “definitely impacted morale at times.” Her anxiety made her feel like a burden at events for her fraternity, and made her believe she wasn’t good enough to be in West Chester University’s Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band, where she was a member of the front ensemble in the fall of 2018. Overall, however, being involved in extracurricular activities has helped her battle depression and anxiety.
Emma explained that “forced social interactions gave [her] an outlet for more support.” She went on to describe how she gained supportive friendships throughout her time with Ram Band and SAI. Emma expressed that the time commitment for marching band gifted her with “forced friends,” which she says are people she was with so often that she began to consider them friends. Her involvement with her fraternity, however, allowed her “picked friends,” who she defines as people she chooses to spend time with outside of the activity.
Despite her struggles with her mental health, Emma is hopeful for her future. Utilizing coping methods such as therapy, crisis lines (texting HOME to 741741), acts of self kindness and communicating with those around her, she’s been able to manage her mental health and complete her college degree. Graduating at the end of the Fall 2022 semester, she hopes to pursue a career in Human Resources.
Emma’s struggle with mental health is not uncommon. According to the Journal of Affective Disorders, which published a 2022 study done with over 350,000 students across 373 college campuses, more than 60% of students struggle with their mental health.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, visit West Chester’s Counseling and Psychological Services website for more information: https://www.wcupa.edu/_services/counselingCenter/
Jessica Baker is a fourth-year biology major with a minor in journalism. JB912643@wcupa.edu