“That sucks.” “Thank you for sharing that with me.” “I’m really sorry you’re going through this.” “How can I be here for you?”
During my time at Princeton, I have been blessed to find a group of amazing women that I call my closest friends, my support network, my team. These Princetonians are the leaders of our biggest, most productive student organizations, they organize social programming, conduct scientific research, and create campus art: These women drive conversation on mental health at Princeton.
When not organizing the Mental Health Week, performing in the Me, Too Monologues at Theatre Intime, or conducting long-term research on depression in the University’s world-class labs, my friends are just that — friends. When I’m struggling, my friends show up. When I’m anxious, my friends call me. When I’m crying, my friends cry, too. And that support system is a two-way street: As a vital member of our team, I am expected to show up, respond to late-night text messages, bring soup and soda. Within this group of friends, I am both supported and needed — I have a purpose.
Like so many members of this support system, I would likely not be here without my team. Over the last four years, I have relied on my support network of family, friends, chaplains, and mental health professionals. When my father was killed in June 2014, just months before I matriculated at Princeton, I was told so many wrong things by so many well-meaning people. “Everything happens for a reason.” “You need to stay strong — for your mother.” “This, too, shall pass.” It was a breath of fresh air, then, when people told me the right things. “This sucks.” “There are no words.” “I am so sorry.” “I am here for you.” These simple statements — often preceded or followed by silence — were exactly what I needed to hear. Instead of brushing away my pain, these statements affirmed that I was hurting, these people told me I was allowed to not be okay. These statements made me feel heard, seen, understood.
While at Princeton, I have grieved the loss of my father. My friends cannot make my grief go away. My friends cannot bring my dad back to life. But my friends can make me feel seen, heard, understood, and valued. And they do. My friends make me feel loved and needed with their simple statements, actions, and — most often — just by showing up. “I’m really sorry you’re going through this.” “How can I be here for you?”
Like so many of my peers, I am hurting at loss of yet another Princetonian to mental illness. For my classmates, Chester Lam ’19 is the third student our institution has lost to mental health in four years — he is preceded by Wonshik Shin ’19 and Audrey Dantzlerward ’15. While our campus continues to grieve the loss of Jacob Kaplan ’18, who passed away after a brave struggle with cancer this winter, I believe it is important now — more than ever — for Princeton students to form support networks. As a member of the Great Class of 2018, I urge my classmates to consider the improvement of the campus conversation about mental health as the best possible legacy we can leave for current and future Princetonians.
In an effort to encourage a student support system, I propose the establishment of Mental Health Peers. Based on the precedent of set by SHARE Peers, Peer Health Advisors, and UMatter, Mental Health Peers will provide a concrete service in the University community by training students how to be friends in mental crisis. With guidance from professionals at Counseling and Psychological Services, we will train our friends, classmates, and peers how to talk about mental health, what to say when a friend is in crisis, and what medical, professional, and confidential resources exist. Through grassroots training that benefits from institutional support, I believe Mental Health Peers can fundamentally change conversation on mental health at Princeton.
Carolyn Beard is a senior in the Department of Comparative Literature. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.