Yale, we need to talk. We need to talk about mental health, because we’re not talking enough about it. Why is it easier to cancel dinner plans with a friend by saying, “I’m feeling really sick with a cold, so I don’t think I can make it,” than it is to say, “I’m actually feeling really depressed, so I don’t think I can make it”? Why is it that, even when we’re feeling overwhelmed balancing academic, extracurricular and social obligations, the default response to “How’s it going?” is “OK,” “fine” or “great”? Why is it so hard to talk openly and honestly about our own mental health? There are a lot of reasons, but stigma is a big one. It’s still not completely OK to say that you’re not “OK.” This inability to be vulnerable with one another is hurting us. These conversations are important for knowing when our friends and loved ones are going through tough times and are the best way to make sure they feel supported.
What can we do about this? How do we overcome this stigma? In the end, it comes down to changing people’s attitudes about mental health, a front where important work is already being done. Our dedicated peers are already trying to raise awareness and improve the campus climate surrounding mental health by running panels with student speakers, spearheading social media campaigns and creating undergraduate publications like the Yale Layer. However, something important is missing. Although panels and articles help us learn about our peers’ experiences, encourage us to reflect and make us more open to talking about mental health, they don’t necessarily provide the space for students to have those conversations. That’s why the one thing we really need — the one thing that could have a huge impact on reducing stigma — is a first-year mental health workshop.
When you look at the initiatives for other aspects of student health, a workshop makes perfect sense. During Camp Yale, all first years go to two workshops: the health and sexuality workshops run by the Community Health Educators and the “Myth of Miscommunication” workshops run by the Communication and Consent Educators. If there is already training for sexual health and consent, then why not mental health? An hourlong workshop would provide first years with a safe, moderated environment to talk about the stresses that many students face when adjusting to college life. In an ideal world, first years would walk out of these workshops a bit more convinced that it’s OK to be vulnerable and have open conversations.
A mental health workshop would also provide an opportunity for students to learn about campus resources that are less well known than Yale Health’s Mental Health and Counseling department. Imagine a first year sitting alone in their room at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night, feeling stressed out, homesick and socially isolated but without anyone to talk to about these issues. How can we make sure this first year realizes they can call Walden Peer Counseling, which runs a hotline every night of the school year? Even though that first year may have heard about Walden once or twice during Camp Yale, it’s easy to forget exactly what the service is for or that it runs every night. Alongside Walden, the Chaplain’s Office, cultural houses and Office of LGBTQ Resources provide alternate spaces for students who need to talk about specific issues, even though they are places that people may not traditionally relate to mental health. If first years learn about these resources in a workshop, they will be more likely not only to remember them but also to use them, either for themselves or a friend.
That’s why I founded Mental Health Educators, a new Yale undergraduate organization that is pushing forward a first-year mental health workshop that all incoming first years can attend throughout the 2018–19 academic year. Our hope is to create a future where it’s OK to talk about not being “OK,” and we sincerely believe that our first-year mental health workshop is a step in the right direction. If you’re interested, let’s start talking.
Hieronimus Loho is a senior in Silliman College and the founder of Mental Health Educators. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.