Written by: Mary Hampo (MPA’22)
Sitting down to write a public blog about mental health—specifically bipolar and major depression—is hard. The thought of looking back and reliving some of the most difficult days in the past three years sounded like a terrible idea. Honestly, I almost decided to decline the offer.
My brain and struggles are unique to me yet also very similar to many other students’ situations. A recent study from the IU Public Policy Institute found that 21% of IUPUI students had unmet mental health needs. Knowing others out there are struggling like I did made me feel like passing up this opportunity to speak about this very personal issue would simply be selfish. They need to know others are there—on campus—to support them.
Mental illness and higher education can seem like the oil and vinegar of life. They just don’t mix, no matter how hard you shake the jar. Higher education traditionally requires set schedules, rigid deadlines, self-discipline, and a methodical mindset. My mental illness is unpredictable, manic, hectic, and often disorganized. When I applied to O’Neill IUPUI’s master’s program, I wasn’t entirely convinced I could find a way to make my brain cooperate with the necessary dedication and work schedule.
Most people who deal with mental health issues try not to broadcast the information. I know I didn’t want to be judged and graded on a different scale. I wanted to make it on my own. My brain, however, did not care what I wanted.
In my first semester, I was doing well and maintained a 4.0 GPA. Then, suddenly, my brain descended into darkness. I blamed myself, I hated my brain, and I knew I was on the verge of losing everything. I struggled to get out of bed, I couldn’t speak without crying, and I was furious with myself. My psychiatrist worked with me, but nothing happens quickly in the world of mental health. A raging bipolar brain doesn’t care about semester deadlines.
When I finally explained my situation to my O’Neill professors, I was stunned and relieved by their understanding. They listened without prying, they helped me find workarounds, and they were sympathetic without being saccharine. They took my situation seriously but didn’t act as though my issue was the end of the world. They didn’t blow my problems out of proportion nor did they play down the urgency with clichés like “get a grip and handle it.”
Instead, they worked with me through the challenges and connected me to appropriate resources. IUPUI provides assistance to any student who may face mental health challenges, often through its Counseling and Psychological Services office—known as CAPS. The office provides group or individual counseling, assessment options, medication management, and more. If a student’s needs extend beyond what CAPS offers, they can refer students to local counselors, many of whom are near campus. To make an appointment at CAPS, students can call 317-274-2548 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each of my professors at O’Neill IUPUI was compassionate and focused on finding solutions for me that allowed me to continue and excel in my studies and eventually complete my Master of Public Affairs in spring 2022. Their support was an integral part of my success then and to this day—and, for that, I will always be grateful.