When I asked if he was okay, he would always tell me “yes,” but I was waiting for him to say, “No, I’m not. I’m not feeling well.” I wanted him to admit that something was wrong and that he wanted help. But he didn’t. It is too easy to pass off feelings of disillusionment, disappointment, loneliness and sadness as temporary sentiments that only linger if we confront them.
I believe that one of the central reasons why Princeton students do not acknowledge their pain is because of deep-seated shame. We all work and play in an environment that urges us to be perfect. Whether it’s acing a test or getting into one’s first choice club, Princeton is a competitive environment. Furthermore, there’s always this persistent thought in our heads that makes us feel even worse about our unhappiness: “Why are you upset? Seriously, why are you upset? You go to one of the most outstanding universities in the world, and there are so many opportunities at your feet. You should be nothing but happy.” This type of reasoning deceives us into thinking that everything is all right, or at least pretending that it is. When something goes wrong, we ignore it or acknowledge it temporarily without taking the necessary action to overcome these feelings.
The best way students can benefit from and learn to resolve mental health issues is by constant dialogue about this topic. I applaud the efforts of the USG in regards to the “What I Be” project, but I would argue that we need these projects all year round and not just for one week out of the year. Depression, anxiety disorders and panic disorders, for example, are plaguing our peers every single day, and we should make sure that as the student body, we are promoting help for these students all the time. In addition, discussions can be advantageous for anyone because those who are struggling emotionally are given a platform to speak. This type of heartfelt honesty that does not always align with the status quo will inspire others to voice their concerns whenever something is amiss in their lives. We cannot turn Princeton into a utopia, but what we can do is assure that we are not perpetuating a false sense of security for our students by only showcasing the good side of Princeton and neglecting the problems within our community.
What I propose is that there be one or two events per month that are devoted to mental health issues. The free fitness classes and massage study breaks are great methods to relieve stress. But I think that there should be events that are more holistic, such as ways to combat self-esteem issues and social anxiety, for example. McCosh offers these classes but rarely are they ever promoted outside of the building. USG and McCosh should coordinate in order to maximize publicity for these diverse support groups. I also believe that there should be more interaction with the brave students who participated in the “What I Be” project, such as a conversation event in Richardson Auditorium or maybe some place more intimate like the Whitman Common Room where students can ask these participants more personal questions. Publicizing the “What I Be” project via the Internet was the first step, but now it’s time to make it more personal by closing the barrier with dialogue. Mental health is an ongoing problem, and therefore outlets should always be publicized and available.
Morgan Jerkins is a comparative literature major from Williamstown, N. J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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