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.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Name: Amanda Rixey, Class of 2018
Undergrad: University of Kansas, KS
Hometown: Overland Park, KS
Fun Fact: My massive bear dog, Sherlock, has over 7,000 followers on Instagram.

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I think most of my classmates would view me as the hyper, kind-of goofy, and giggly one in the class.  It’s easy for me to hide under that personality— especially after having suffered from generalized anxiety and PTSD.  Both inside and outside of PT school, mental health is my passion.  In 2012, I lost my dad to suicide; ever since, awareness and treatment of mental health has been the biggest thing I’ve ever advocated for.  Mental health and physical therapy go hand-in-hand.  However, mental health issues can sort of creep up on you as a busy physical therapy student when you least expect it.

There are days when I never want to get out of bed.  There are days when I come home from school and all I do is lie in bed.  There are days when I don’t study because I’m too nervous about not knowing all of the material for school.  There are days when all I do is study because I’m nervous I don’t know enough.  Regardless of the day, I have to keep reminding myself I am not crazy.  Graduate school is stressful and it is normal to have these feelings of anxiety.  The biggest key, however, is to seek help and do something about it.


Here is my list of how I “keep calm and carry on” during PT school:

1. Get help when you need it

The longer you wait to seek medical guidance, the harder it will be.  I sought out a counselor and take medications for my anxiety and depression.  Regis is awesome and offers free counseling to students—take advantage of it!

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Sharing hugs and thoracic manipulations during MMII lab

2. Don’t be afraid to take medications if that’s what’s right for you

I take an SSRI every day. I find that there is some sort of stigma regarding medicating for depression and anxiety. Overcoming this stigma allowed me to experience life to the fullest for the first time. Talk to your primary care physician or counselor; they can help.

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Spending Thanksgiving with the Class of 2018 and our puppies

3. Find a network of support

 Be open with classmates, professors, family members, friends, or even your dog about what you’re going through.  Let them know when you feel anxious or down and talk to them about it.  I text my friends when I don’t feel like myself.  They are there to help.

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My sisters and friend at the University of Kansas Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk with AFSP where I served as Chairperson in May 2014

4. Take days off from schoolwork

I know that school can seem overwhelming, but it is acceptable to take one or two days off during the week for yourself.  Do what you love: workout, hike, do some Pilates, lay on the sofa and watch Bridesmaids for the 50th time, walk your dog!

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Enjoying a beautiful day off in Vail with my best buddy, Sherlock and my boyfriend, Joe (not pictured)

5. Get involved in the community  

Through Regis, I was able to get involved with Spoke n Motion, an integrated dance company.  Sharing my experience with dancers of diverse backgrounds helped me feel wanted in a very close community and enjoy dance from a beautiful perspective.

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Dancing with my fellow Spokes during our May 2016 show at the Colorado Ballet. PC: Spoke N Motion

6. Believe in yourself

When I doubt my abilities in school, I notice that I often find myself in a rut.  Accept what you know and what you don’t know.  Cherish the moments your classmates compliment you and when you succeed.  These little moments add up and you will realize that you are a capable student in this profession.

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Enjoying a Friday night with classmates

7. Remember that mental health doesn’t have to take over your life

Taking the proper steps and finding the right help will put you on the pathway to overcoming it. Please feel free to email me with any questions at arixey@regis.edu.


If you or someone you know needs help contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Regis Counseling Services: 303-458-3507