Heart attack at 21?

This article originally appeared in the Daily Breeze.

Emily Taylor, 21, was convinced she was having a heart attack.

It was the first quarter of her third year studying communications at Cal State Long Beach and, increasingly, she was feeling ill. She’d lost about 20 pounds, couldn’t eat, and would occasionally throw up. As the weeks went by, she began to have chest pains.

But when she went to the hospital, Taylor didn’t get the answer she expected. After performing a series of tests, including an electrocardiogram and 24-hour heart monitoring, doctors told her she was perfectly healthy.

It was “just stress” she was told.

Indeed, it had been an upsetting few weeks. Taylor had become embroiled in a board dispute at her co-educational fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, a conflict that had her facing off against some of her closest friends. Meanwhile, she was struggling with a long-distance romantic relationship, and she was still grieving the passing of her grandmother a couple of years before.

Sometimes, she burst into tears without knowing why.

“I thought something was really wrong with me,” she said.

Taylor knew about her university’s counseling department and student health center, but she wasn’t comfortable talking to strangers. So she waited until she went home to Arizona during Thanksgiving break to see her family physician, who diagnosed her with anxiety and prescribed antidepressants.

 

“I was surprised,” Taylor said, recounting that she grew up in a family where mental health concerns are seen as a weakness.

“I was raised to think that I couldn’t be like that, that could never happen to me. When (the doctor) prescribed antidepressants my mom was like, ‘Don’t tell your dad’.”

A year later, Taylor is improving. She’s still taking the medication and plans to seek counseling before she finishes her undergraduate degree, she said. During moments when she feels anxious, she reminds herself to breathe.

“I learned to not underestimate stress,” Taylor said. “I didn’t realize it could do so much…  My doctor took a while to explain that to me: You don’t understand how much stress can affect your body.”

Claudia Boyd-Barrett writes for the Center for Health Reporting at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics. Chris Haire is an Orange County Register staff writer. Reporting for this project was supported by a grant from the California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.

 

More Stories from This Project

Stress case: What’s behind the increased demand for mental health counseling from SoCal college students?

On February 7, author Claudia Boyd-Barrett appeared on Southern California Public Radio's Air Talk with La

California colleges, like USC, are in the midst of a mental health care crisis. Can help come fast enough?

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News.
  • 1 of 3

Videos from This Project

Comments

Other Articles

Stress case: What’s behind the increased demand for mental health counseling from SoCal college students?

On February 7, author Claudia Boyd-Barrett appeared on Southern California Public Radio's Air Talk with Larry Mantle to discuss her project about...

At some schools, mental health battle includes the Bible

This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. All kinds of colleges are dealing with unprecedented student demand for mental health...

California colleges, like USC, are in the midst of a mental health care crisis. Can help come fast enough?

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News. “Are you actually going to kill yourself?” Sociology Professor...
  • 1 of 254

Other Audio

© 2018 Center for Health Reporting

Login