Opinion: Let's Talk About Mental Health

On Thursday November 5th, UGBC teamed up with BC SLAM to host a slam poetry open mic night to present completely uncensored spoken art about mental health. The result was very powerful.

A lecture hall in Higgins was filled almost to capacity with students who listened, snapped and clapped for the brave individuals who got up to present their experiences, thoughts, feelings and art. Personal stories were shared with an audience comprised of friends and strangers. Though much of the material was heavy, I left the auditorium feeling uplifted. It was wonderful to hear from people who either overcame or are working to overcome very real afflictions. Moreover, I am hopeful that the event will further societal acceptance of those who suffer from mental health issues at BC.

Discussion of mental health is stifled by the stigma it carries. While the topic is certainly not as taboo as it was a generation ago, it is one still largely marginalized by society and on college campuses.  This marginalization made the slam poetry event rare, but also wonderful.

The problem with feeling uncomfortable and refusing to talk about these difficult issues is that it effectively embarrasses those who are suffering from them, forcing them to suffer in silence. To break down these walls, it is important to openly and unashamedly talk about mental illness, or to simply create a space where dialogue can happen when people are ready to share.

We have little difficulty talking about a broken wrist. Physical rehabilitation carries little to no stigma. The attitude should not change when the ailment is in the brain instead of somewhere else in the body. Talk of chemical imbalances should not be more uncomfortable than talk of sprained knee or twisted ankle. Marginalizing these issues estranges the millions of people who suffer from them.

BC is neither immune to the suffering that these issues cause nor the stigma that exists against them. Boston College students feel an enormous pressure to conform, to fit in and to be as close to perfect as possible—or at least pretend. This climate is damaging for a multitude of reasons, but especially so for mental health. The pressure to fit in convinces people to conceal their struggles.

At BC, it’s hard to admit to even a single imperfection when everyone seemingly else has it all together. This climate reminds me of a Tuesday’s With Morrie quote that reads, “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” Students at BC, and across the country, should stop buying it and start holding one another up. To achieve this goal, students should educate themselves on mental health and be prepared to discuss it.

The most common mental illnesses for college students in the US are depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addiction. Each year, over 1,000 college students commit suicide. Most suicidal college students are afflicted by depression or another mental health issue. It’s important for all of us to learn about the nature of these common diseases and have a basic understanding of the symptoms so that we can identify when a friend or even ourselves are suffering. No, students should not act as medical professionals, but at least if we have a capacity to identify possible problems, we can help our fellow students seek help.

One in four college students have a mental illness that is diagnosable. Do you have four friends? Statistically, one of them has a diagnosable mental illness. Do you want her to feel like she has to keep it a secret? Do you want him to seek help, or not? 40% of students do not even attempt to get help, and that speaks to one—or both—of two problems: the obvious, widespread stigma against these diseases and whether a college has enough resources to aid all of the students who seek help.

If you or a friend needs help, Boston College has a variety of resource on their University Counseling Services website. In addition, UGBC offers BC CHATS for anyone to talk to someone who is not their roommate or friend. BC certainly still has a long way to go in terms of being fully equipped to handle the vast amount of mental health issues on this campus, but these resources are a start.

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