These issues don’t discriminate.
The truth is depression doesn’t care what your background is. Self-perception issues don’t pick you based on gender. Suicidal thoughts and personality disorders don’t discriminate based on what social background you came from or who your parents were. As Mental Health Week has demonstrated, psychological issues can range from insecurities about how we are perceived by our peers to the disorders that might hinder our regular activity. And the reality is that no one can be categorized as an exception to having these issues.
So if everyone is as likely to experience some kind of mental health problem, why is there such a stigma? And exactly why have we continued to allow there to be one?
If someone had a chronic physical illness, we wouldn’t be so insensitive as to say, “take a few pills,” “talk to someone,” just “try to feel better.” So why is it any different for someone with a mental health problem or illness? These people, who could even be you or me, didn’t choose to feel this way.
In some ways, the college experience can exacerbate this problem — the stigma of mental illness. In a place where intellectual capability and accomplishment are so prized and esteemed, it seems we classify people with mental illnesses as people with problems with their minds, and therefore people who don’t deserve to be here. In a place where we glorify control over the mind so much, we fall to the risk of demanding that people have control over their mental health problems and then blame them when they can’t. The stress of not being allowed to get help merely adds to the inevitable academic pressures we feel as students at a top-tier university. And this idea simply doesn’t reflect what a college experience should be like.
If we are struggling in a certain course, we go to our residential college deans to request a tutor to get personalized academic help. If we feel sick from a cold or the flu, we go to McCosh for student health services. If we feel scared walking back from the Street when it’s empty, we call Public Safety to drive us back. And we’ve made it okay to do this — we’ve made it conventional behavior to ask for help in these cases. But it seems there isn’t such an understanding when someone is suffering psychologically, and they need to talk to a professional at Counseling and Psychological Services or to a residential college adviser or dean. It’s almost as if we are requiring them to keep their problems to themselves or deal with them privately. And while it seems that many students do take advantage of these resources — of talking to the mental health advisers available at Princeton — there are also a great number of students who might not be getting the help that they desire because of the fear of what others might say.
Regardless of whether it’s from a mental or physical illness, anyone suffering from an illness should know that should they ever need it, there will be a support group waiting for them, without judgment or close-mindedness. And I’m not saying they have a responsibility to tell us or even that we have a right to know, because we don’t. But we need to make sure that we’ve made it okay for them to trust us — that we’ve created a safe zone that allows for healthy and confidential connections.
An article published earlier this week by guest contributors Raphael Frankfurter and Timothy McGinnis mentioned that there is a misconception that “feelings of inescapable badness are necessarily a sign of a malfunctioning self.” They talk about how perhaps there needs to be “mental health intervention” on an administrative and infrastructural level by the University in getting rid of those “hierarchical social groups on campus [that] suppress honest emotional expression and mutual appreciation.” And I agree completely.
But perhaps even before demanding that the University correct its ways, we need to be a bit more introspective. We need to realize that we, the students, might have created a culture that pathologizes these feelings and prevents some of us from getting the help that we truly need.
Isabella Gomes is a freshman from Irvine, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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