Many students have voiced the urgent need for change in how Yale handles mental health issues, but we have forgotten to address what we as individuals can do to directly effect change on campus. In what ways have we contributed to a high-pressure culture that is difficult to navigate for those struggling with mental illness? How many of us actually know what depression, eating disorders and anxiety look like?
Tackling this issue requires not only policy change on the part of the administration, but also a shift in campus attitude to promote mental wellbeing. We must be more aware of what mental illness really looks like and more supportive of our friends and peers who suffer from it. We as students play a critical role in shaping a culture of support.
Yale’s campus culture manifests itself in the fervor for freshmen at the extracurricular bazaar, the snaps of affirmation at an a cappella jam or the unparalleled tradition of running naked and free through Bass during reading period. At the same time, our culture encourages setting high academic and personal standards for ourselves. Sometimes we are too busy to pay attention to our mental health, let alone the mental health of others. If we are not finishing a problem set, we are applying for summer internships or shuttling between meetings.
What if we slowed down and tuned in to those around us? How often do we devote our nights to comforting a struggling friend? Or go out of our way to leave a note of encouragement, buy a friend a cup of coffee for the soul, ask someone what was wrong when we noticed he or she seemed out of it?
Instead of placing such an emphasis on success, campus culture needs to shift to value honesty and openness. Yalies wield the greatest power to create a culture where students feel they can share and take on each other’s struggles. We must notice those around us, ask more questions and care for one another.
But even if we focus more on our own and others’ wellbeing, there are still other aspects of our culture that hinder change, specifically stigma and ignorance. Last year, when a friend of mine withdrew from Yale for mental health reasons, her suitemates whispered about her going “cuckoo.” Her suitemates were not malicious — they just did not understand the nature of depression. But ignorance begets stigma, and stigma further burdens someone who is already suffering from an illness. If we educate ourselves on the nature, causes and prevalence of mental illnesses, we can become better-informed advocates for change and learn to identify when we should intervene.
No one should feel ashamed to ask for help from friends or a medical professional. In fact, according to the 2013 Yale College Council Report on Mental Health, nearly 40 percent of students seek the services of Yale Mental Health & Counseling before they graduate.
But we should also be aware of the many campus resources beyond MH&C. For someone in the midst of slipping into depression, the very act of Googling where to go for help is an obstacle to receiving treatment. Walden Peer Counseling, peer liaisons and the SHARE Center offer counseling services. Learning more about available mental health resources helps prepare us to support ourselves and friends who need help.
As students, we cannot cure mental illnesses. We are not experts in clinical disorders, and we do not have the power to diagnose or treat. But we can provide support for those who suffer the brunt of administrative shortcomings.
We can mitigate the pain of mental illness by offering our emotional support, educating ourselves, spreading awareness and eliminating stigma. Promoting a culture conducive to openness could lead to an environment where people are not afraid to ask for help. At most, such a culture could even prevent some forms of mental illness. Let us not forget how much power we as individuals have to change the mental health landscape on campus.
Audrey Luo is a sophomore in Silliman College and a member of Mind Matters. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.