Why the 5Cs should speak up about mental health

By Jocelyn Gardner ‘17
Mental Health Columnist

I could start this column by throwing a bunch of statistics at you, but I do not believe that is the point — we seem to naturally gravitate towards summary, which is not always a good tendency in dealing with groups of people. People are the point, not numbers.
Mental health reaches far beyond illness and, of course, the problems surrounding mental health run much deeper than the standard discussion on stigma. Could stigma be a symptom of a larger fault in the way we understand and treat ourselves and others?

Taking care of our own well being unfortunately does not always take precedence. Stress is omnipresent, yet we are taught by society that this is normal and that we must handle as much at once as possible. This massive barrier is effective in making this issue rather quiet — if high stress is the norm and seeking help is discouraged, it should not come as a surprise that people do not know about healthy levels of stress. I am alarmed at the prevalence of people — mostly students — who take pride in or laugh about lack of sleep and obscene amounts of work. In the midst of various commitments and expectations, there is no time to focus on taking care of ourselves or to look out for others (another thing we are simultaneously commended for and discouraged from).

I am surprised at the lack of discussion about mental health in an atmosphere where caring individuals flourish and question constructs of normality — “the way things are.” How can we pretend the collective attitude about mental health is fine when people are told things like: “Get over yourself,” “It’s just a phase” and “It’s all in your head.” We internalize this toxic societal view and tell ourselves we are okay and do not need help.

I know people who can list all the American presidents off the top of their heads, yet hardly anyone learns about psychological, social, and emotional wellness or the self understanding that is relevant and vital to our functioning. Mental illness can be managed, reduced and even prevented with such information, which is not readily available as much more than an afterthought to most health programs.

It seems most students are not aware of the extent of the problems facing people suffering from mental illness and those who provide support. Reaching out to ask for or offer help is very daunting, especially considering there is no college program  here where students can learn about mental wellness, so the majority of us do not know how to prevent or handle crises. Aside from the horrors those seeking help must endure, students who step in to seek help for other students are chided for “doing too much” or “not setting boundaries.”
Reaching out for help is invasive and confusing. How can we be expected to know what we need for ourselves when all inquiry about mental health is directed towards Monsour, which cannot be expected to handle everything? The existence of Monsour is no excuse to dodge all discussion about mental health — they do not run our colleges and they cannot be treated like a magic “fix-all” cure to metaphorically sweep problems under the rug. There is no platform to talk about mental health; if we want real information, we have to dig, which takes time and effort. People suffering from mental illness and their friends have enough on their minds without having to untangle themselves from red tape and the lack of comprehensive information about all spectrums of mental health.

These are a few ideas I will come back to often in this column.  I started this column because everyone deserves peace of mind. I want to clarify that there are resources — everywhere. I am working on compiling them in a blog (scrippsvoicementalhealth.wordpress.com) in hopes of reducing this strange silence about an issue that affects so many more people than we think. The blog is an interactive extension of this column that will include more stories, general information, tools for helping and understanding yourself and those around you, and, hopefully, your thoughts and guest articles. I’ve also made a Google form (there will be a link on the blog) for people to give me anonymous feedback and share stories.

Hopefully, this column will serve its purpose to the community. At the very least, I want to make people think about this issue. Thank you, and I look forward to writing for and hearing from you this year.