Sometimes, being a college student is like living in a pressure cooker. Some students vanish into thin air like tiny bursts of steam. Some explode. Others boil down to just a little vapor of their true self. For students who suffer from a mental illness, these feelings can be persistent and burdensome.
There is no denying that mental illness is a problem on college campuses everywhere. Our demanding, fast-paced society is plagued by an increase in mental illness. Especially at prestigious schools like Boston College, the desire for perfection fuels anxiety and depression because it is so hard to “measure up.”
Students everywhere feel incredible pressure to be involved in clubs and activities, thrive socially, stay in shape, and serve their communities, all while maintaining near perfect grades. This college culture demands copious amounts of time, work, and energy that simply isn't possible to always give. The pressure is often just too much.
To add to this life-threatening problem, college students are part of an environment where mental illness is stigmatized. This stigma can cause those with mental illness additional fear and insecurity during college—a time meant for identity building. On top of everything facing a young person coming-of-age, this stigma spawns further stress and prevents many from seeking necessary treatment and ultimately reaching their full potential. While college can be a rewarding and worthwhile experience for many, it may not be for all.
Universities across the country have been making strides in pursuit of destigmatization and maximized counseling, and openly discussing mental illness awareness has become commonplace, allowing students to feel comfortable seeking help. Unfortunately, I haven’t noticed these changes at Boston College. Why does mental illness still seem so taboo here? What is it about BC culture that makes it an uncomfortable topic of discussion? There could be a couple factors.
College culture is a very social one, and it can breed intense competition. Our lifestyles provide for little to no privacy and constant outside influences. While this closeness can greatly benefit students and help them to foster meaningful relationships and support systems, the personal competition can be daunting.
While academically demanding, BC’s competition goes beyond the classroom. An active social life at Boston College requires a competitive edge. As a member of the BC community, I’ve battled for open positions in esteemed clubs, treated choosing eight-man roommates like an episode of The Bachelor, run to Eagles Nest to beat the lunch rush salad lines, shoved my way through a crowd of classmates to grab the best seat, pounced into action at housing pick time like my life depended on it, and almost broken my arm laying out for a catch in an intramural flag football game. Many of us even have to compete with one another to participate in community service. At the time, none of this seemed so ridiculous because these were the things I felt I needed to do as an active BC student. This cutthroat atmosphere doesn’t allow for weakness. And for those with mental illness, all this may not be worth the stress and anxiety, and this could lead to students dropping out or harming themselves.
So many aspects of BC culture require a competitive spirit, which, at other universities, may not be necessary to thrive. Something about the environment at Boston College pressures students to strive for perfection. This pursuit forces students to constantly compare themselves to one another, and further promotes intense competition and rivalry. As such, students loathe to acknowledge any form of perceived weakness, especially mental illness. Students may not want to discuss it or may neglect to seek help because of how they may be judged by and in comparison to their peers.
The conservative environment at Boston College might also contribute to the lack of discussion or acknowledgment of mental illness. Universities generally tend to lean liberal, which fosters an open and progressive culture—a perfect place to begin discussion of mental illness awareness, treatment, and destigmatization. Boston College does not fall into this category as it boasts a more conservative atmosphere. This lack of strong liberal influence may be limiting discussion of progressive issues, mental illness being one of them.
As a member of a generation more inclined towards socially liberal views, I sometimes feel at odds with the conservative vibe at Boston College. BC has been my home for two years now, and I have frequently felt thwarted by the pressure to conform to the conservative mentality. The only place I have felt comfortable enough to share my liberal and progressive views has been with my wonderful roommates in the privacy of our own common room—without them, I may have gone through all of my time here at BC without ever voicing any of my opinions, comments, or concerns.
I have never been timid to share my views, but there are limited outlets at Boston College through which I can express a more progressive voice. Maybe a strong progressive student voice is what BC needs to open the ever-important discussion of mental illness.
Boston College as an establishment, in the pursuit of elevated national rank and reputation, sacrifices many things in order to maintain its perfect appearance. The institution nurtures a community that sometimes ignores the depth and disparity of its own constituents, and in turn, it frequently asks them to look good on paper. Students should not have to silence their inner struggles to feel adequate enough for this university. The recognition of and response to mental illness on campus is something that Boston College simply cannot sacrifice as it continues to progress.
So what can we as students do to help increase awareness and destigmatize mental illness on our campus? We can encourage our friends to seek help and to talk about their anxiety, depression, or other illnesses without judgment. We can advance an agenda through the proper college channels to promote open discussion with panel discussions and campaigns. Furthermore, we can ask for more transparency from our administration regarding so many of our students’ experiences with mental illness on campus. This would go a long way in helping us to destigmatize mental illness and depressurize our frequent pressure cooker lives.