Moving to New Orleans to start dental school felt like traveling to a whole new world. The streets, the climate, the architecture, the people — everything was different. For a long time I felt out of my element, especially once dental school started.
The administrators warned us that the program was tough and, wow, they were right! The first semester quickly progressed, as did the tempo of classes, lab practicals, quizzes, tests and everything in between. Times of success were mixed in with feeling like my head was barely above water. Juggling my academics and adjusting to life in NOLA, on top of personal relationships and responsibilities, became overwhelming. Fear set in that the next four years would be filled with this unsustainable pressure to succeed. I had worked so hard to reach dental school, yet suddenly I didn’t know if I could even handle staying in the program. That’s when I finally decided it was time to prioritize my mental health and get help.
Often when people think of therapy, they imagine depression, severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts or mental breakdowns. They imagine broken families, devastating life events or addictions. And while these may be the case at times, you don’t have to be in a completely broken state to start therapy. You can simply be confused or feel as though something is off. Our emotions manifest themselves in so many different ways — that’s what makes us human.
Therapy can help you understand why you may be feeling sad, angry or anxious, and teach you some great coping mechanisms and resolutions. For example, I learned not to be upset more than five minutes about something that won’t matter five years from now. Sure, failing a lab exam or ending a class with an 89 can sting, but these small trials will not dramatically change your life after graduation. Take some deep breaths, let yourself process your emotions and move on with a smile. Therapy is not about changing who you are as a person, but rather helping you become a better version of yourself.
So, let’s make this clear: There is nothing wrong with going to therapy.
Talking to a therapist does not mean that you are crazy or you are any less of a person. There is no sense of pride lost by reaching out for help. If anything, it is a mature decision that means you are prioritizing your health. I can honestly say that I’m happier now than I have ever been and I still attend therapy once a month. This happiness has helped me perform better in school, be a better friend, and I’ve developed a sense of peace within me.
Dental school is difficult. There are challenges that we face every day both inside and outside of the classroom. But you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Reach out to your school’s mental health program or find a private practice therapist in your area. You don’t have to let things get bad before you get help. Think of therapy in terms of teeth. Sometimes you go to the dentist just to make sure everything in your mouth is all good. If, for whatever reason, things aren’t, then you make additional appointments and begin the healing process. Your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical because both are parts of you. And if there’s anything we should know as aspiring dentists, it is that we always look better with a smile!
~ Marco Gargano, Louisiana ’23