Mental Health Wellness in DPT School

Name: Abbey Ferguson

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With all of its incredible opportunities, graduate school, especially a doctorate program, also brings a new amount of stress and anxiety. It is a pressure cooker for bringing out both the best and the worst in us, and as my first year came to a close, I found myself drowning in mental illness and anxiety. I realized I wasn’t alone as we embraced vulnerability in our summer Psychosocial Aspects of Health Care class, and many of us found the courage to admit how exhausted we were with life, finding relief in common ground.

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We are literally on a common ground 🙂

Our Psych-Soc. class was one of the many resources I began to take advantage of in order to regain mental wellness. Regis’ counseling center provided free counseling, all of the advisors had their doors open, and with time many of my classmates became close friends as we continually showed support for each other. However, there was still a nagging sense that I couldn’t pursue full wellness in our program without bringing some sort of awareness to mental health issues that permeated our program.

 

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. After years of treatment, bouncing in and out of recovery, I arrived at Regis ill-prepared to ward off another relapse. Being in a healthcare field is difficult as an individual trying to fight health and diet culture which often triggers eating disorder behavior. I found myself getting angry with some of the comments people would say or the culture that was fostered in the general population, and I felt helpless.

 

However, thanks to the community at Regis and within our DPT program, I was encouraged to do something about my feelings of anger and helplessness. I began to formulate an education program to advocate for those in recovery from eating disorders, and to educate the program on how to foster a less triggering environment. We had one of Regis’s counselors come and speak about the language health-care providers use and how these words can affect an individual’s perception about themselves. We also had a panel of three second-year DPT students who shared their own experiences recovering from an eating disorder in graduate school.

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I was overwhelmed by the support. As I looked out at the crowd that had showed up to my small education session, I grew misty-eyed and almost cried in front of everyone. My frustration dissipated, and  I was instead filled with pride for the program I am a part of. Fellow students asked questions, attempted to understand, and showed overwhelming empathy as the session continued. After the session, dozens of fellow DPT students came up to me, expressing similar experiences of recovery and wanting to continue the conversation. Weeks later, another DPT student came up to me at our national conference in New Orleans, excited and passionate about the topic and wanting to team up with me to advocate for mental health as well. I found it encouraging and exciting to see like-minded, future health care professionals so interested in becoming more familiar with these issues in order to properly care for individuals plagued by these illnesses.

 

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There is no question: graduate school is hard. It is intense, exhausting, and often times it feels like I am just crawling along. But, I have never been more thankful to be a part of a program that allows its students to own their mental health by advocating and educating the community.

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