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4 Tips from Mental Health Advocate and Wake Forest SPS Student Erica Coppola

Looking back, Erica Coppola recalled: “I’d always felt like something wasn’t right. But when you’re a working college student with family obligations and friends, you just go on with life sometimes anyway.”

Wake Forest SPS Student Erica CoppolaThen, in 2020, the pandemic hit and life forced Erica to slow down and take notice of signs and symptoms she had been suffering from for a long time – periods of intense depression and anxiety, particularly around her menstrual cycle. 

When she went to her primary care doctor, Erica received a full diagnosis of chronic anxiety disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is a chronic mood disorder that causes severe depression, irritability, and tension before menstruation. It impacts more than 4 million women in the United States. 

Erica had never heard of PMDD before but the news changed her life for the better: “I was finally able to put a name to what I’d been experiencing since I was a teenager.” 

Today, Erica is a mental health blogger and author while pursuing her Master of Communications degree from Wake Forest University School of Professional Studies. 

Her experience has compelled her to share her journey with others to help normalize the fact that “it’s okay to not to be okay” and offer hope and guidance for a better future. 

Here are tips she recommends for anyone struggling with mental health.

Be Your Own Advocate 

Getting a chronic anxiety and PMDD diagnosis was a battle as Erica continued to speak up that she was not okay. Over the course of her life, she’d gone to various doctors, gynecologists, and was even hospitalized at one point for her PMDD symptoms. Medical professionals continually downplayed her symptoms and tried to convince her nothing was wrong. 

Yet, she never gave up: “At the end of the day, I had to be my own advocate. No one will push for us like we push for ourselves.”

After 15 years of suffering, Erica continued to advocate for herself and for answers – which she finally received and set her on track for a new life. 

Value the Mind-Body Connection 

Part of what led her to seek help in 2020 was the physical strain her mental health had taken on her body, 

“When you aren’t at your best mentally, it impacts you physically and vice versa,” Erica said.

After her diagnosis in 2020, she began treatment to support her mental health, including therapy and medication. She understands that those aren’t the right route for everybody, but for her own journey, it’s been extremely helpful. 

At the same time, Erica began making lifestyle changes to support her physical health, as well. 

“It’s hard to be consistent sometimes, but being active, dietary changes, and meditation have really helped me to get through some dark times,” said Erica. “Taking care of your mind and your body all goes together.” 

Lean into a Support System

Struggling with mental health issues can be isolating, and Erica is grateful to have a network of family and friends who rallied around her. 

“I have a good supportive tribe of friends that I’ve had for almost 10 plus around me,” said Erica. “Although there were some people who really didn’t get it, and I had to distance myself from them.”

She also found support beyond her family and friends by joining various support groups online. In this, she connected with people all over the world who struggled with the same things as she did and understood on a deeper level than most people. 

“My family has been nothing but supportive and understanding, but sometimes they don’t fully get it,” Erica explained. “That’s why these support groups have been so helpful, because they get it without me having to explain everything. Sometimes, you don’t feel like going into a whole explanation.”

Find a Passion

Looking to the future, Erica sees the opportunity to combine her personal and professional passions. She received her bachelor’s degree in communications in 2021 and went to work for a PR firm. While she gained a lot of experience there, it also made her realize that it wasn’t the route she wanted to take.

She hopes to use the skills and knowledge she acquires at Wake Forest SPS to move into the nonprofit sector, potentially even related to mental health. The program has allowed her the flexibility to pursue this next chapter in her career in a low-stress environment. 

In addition to professional fulfillment, Erica has also pursued her passion of writing by sharing her story in a self-published book Ever Powerful (available on Amazon).

“It’s sometimes scary to be vulnerable and put everything out there. But if it can help someone, that makes it worth it,” Erica said.

To learn more about Erica and follow her journey, check out her blog.

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