Four Yale undergraduates who identify as LGBTQ shared their personal experiences with mental health on Wednesday evening during a panel discussion at Sudler Hall.
The panel was organized by Mind Matters, Yale’s undergraduate mental health awareness and activism group, to promote understanding of the intersection between gender, sexuality and mental health and to create a platform for LGBTQ students to share their experiences with the issue, according to Sreeja Kodali ’18, co-president of Mind Matters. During the event, panelists Margaret Kellogg ’19, Rob Colgate ’20, Elisia Ceballo-Countryman ’18 and Brian Matusovsky ’19 took turns discussing their experiences with mental illness, stereotypes, finding support systems and navigating LGBTQ identity with family members.
“I’m really grateful to Mind Matters for putting together this event and sort of constructing a space to share our stories,” Colgate said. “I think it’s really important to use our stories constructively to make an active change in how we approach these things.”
The other panelists also emphasized the importance of such events, especially given that some said they lacked support systems growing up.
Matusovsky opened up about the difficulty of being nonbinary and questioning their sexuality, particularly in the wake of their mental illness. They added that Yale was the first LGBTQ-friendly place they had access to and described it as a “magical feeling.” Still, Matusovsky said, while they found many LGBTQ-friendly spaces on campus, they noticed a lack of venues to openly discuss mental illness.
For Matusovsky, mental health and mental illness refer to “two different scales.” Mental health varies according to day-to-day feelings, while mental illness is a long-term issue.
“We can be simultaneously in a state where we’re mentally ill and flourishing,” Matusovsky said. “I’d say right now in my life, I’m in a period where I’m flourishing, but I still have mental illness.”
Kellogg echoed Matusovsky’s stance on the distinction between mental illness and mental health and added that her bisexual identity lent itself “to self-doubt,” exacerbating her mental health issues and making it harder for her to form bonds with others. But although she questioned her identity at first, Kellogg said, she finally concluded that she did not need to embody all of the stereotypes associated with having anxiety or depression and being bisexual. Instead, Kellogg added, she could decide which of the subcomponents associated with those labels made her feel good, such as being empathetic and loving, and incorporate those into her identity and expression.
Additionally, Kellogg noted that the panel discussion marked “a turning point” for her because it was her first time talking openly about her mental health and queerness. She advised those with similar experiences to approach the question of their identities with self-compassion and kindness and to explore different outlets for their thoughts, such as journaling and talking with friends.
Colgate, too, discussed the important role that supportive friendships have played in his life and in the context of coping with his mental illness.
“[Feeling better] takes a lot of failing again and again, trying over and over, accepting where you’re at and, at the same time, working for change,” he said. “It’s a nice harmony that I never thought I could find.”
Ceballo-Countryman, a first-year counselor, said that when she was younger, she initially thought her depression stemmed from her queer identity. She added that she held personal and harmful misunderstandings about what it would mean to seek treatment, due to her family background and her identity as a black person.
And Kellogg said she “desperately wanted to avoid stereotypes” that came with her sexuality, which could often be damaging to the mental health of those who are bisexual. “Am I just a walking cliche?” she remembered asking herself.
During the Q&A session following the panelists’ discussion, Colgate touched upon stereotypes pertaining to medication for treating mental illnesses. He noted that the notion of being “too weak to just get over it” is particularly damaging.
The panelists stressed the importance of honest communication with friends and family and recommended self-help books and the University’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education Center as useful resources.
According to Kodali, the panelists were chosen to represent several different gender identities, sexual orientations and mental health experiences, although she acknowledged that not all identities were represented on the panel.
“It is important to understand that the students speaking tonight are but a small sample of a wide and diverse population,” said Dominic Schnabel ’19, a board member of Mind Matters. “We must give praise for those brave enough to speak but we must also acknowledge those that are silenced and not in a position to speak out.”
Wednesday’s student panel was one of several similar events that Mind Matters organizes every year, ranging from conversations about disordered eating and the intersection of race and mental health to events held in collaboration with advocacy groups outside Yale.
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