YikYak, a mobile app that lets users anonymously write and view posts called “Yaks” within a five-mile radius, has attracted some notice from the University and other schools as a medium for students struggling with mental health issues.
Students battling mental health-related issues were among those at the University who posted Yaks since it became popular on campus last year. In some of these anonymous posts, they admitted to having feelings of depression, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal intent.
Students at other universities, such as the College of William and Mary and Villanova University, have also been posting anonymous thoughts asking for help on YikYak when they felt suicidal or depressed,NPRreported.
Students have also posted similar anonymous messages to Tiger Admirers, a Facebook page within the University community usually used for posting anonymous notes of admiration.
"I fear am at risk of killing myself. I feel so alone. Its sucks to not be wanted by anyone, to not have someone you can call a best friend, to go for weeks without a phone call or text message. I want to be dead. I don't want to exist," an anonymous Tiger Admirers post from last May said.
Undergraduate Student Government president Ella Cheng ’16, who has also previouslyexpressed concern with YikYak, said she does not think YikYak is the ideal medium for posts dealing with mental health issues.
“If people aren’t ready to reach out to someone in person, it can be okay,” Cheng said. “But it’s not funny anymore when someone posts something like that on YikYak or Tiger Admirers."
Cheng is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.
However, Cheng added that she loves seeing the replies that people post to Yaks expressing thoughts about depression.
“People reply back with so many encouraging words, and there’s usually so much support instead of judgment,” Cheng said.
Calvin Chin, the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said he can appreciate the support students show one another on anonymous posts like these.
“I think a lot of it has to do with stigma,” he said."When people feel stigma acknowledging that they’re feeling depressed, that can lead them to want to share their feelings through more anonymous online platforms. If there were less stigma, they might feel more comfortable reaching out more directly."
Chin said he thinks it’s good for students to reach out to one another, and that the best way to get help is by talking directly with someone who cares about one.
“It’s good to try to reply with an encouraging message if you can,” Chin said. “Try to remind students that they are not alone and there are people who care about them, and try to encourage them to seek out help if they can.”
Amalya Megerman ’16, co-chair of the Mental Health Initiative Board, said that she believes it takes a certain amount of courage and bravery for students to post about feelings of depression on YikYak.
“Things aren’t always treated with so much respect in forums like [YikYak] or taken as seriously, but I do think it provides an outlet that people might not otherwise have so it does really serve an important function in the Princeton community,” Megerman said. “The replies show that our community is willing to reach out regarding mental health issues and help and show people that they’re not alone.”
Chin noted that although it is not possible to reach out directly to students who post anonymously about such struggles, students struggling with mental health issues should remember that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
“If you can try to get through what is causing you pain right now, things can get better and things will get better,” Chin said.
Clarification: This article has been updated to state that USG president Ella Cheng '16 is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.