“Ask for help.” The three words seem simple enough, but a myriad of factors — related to race, class and gender — influence each person’s ability to do so.
Ideas of self-care are thrown around almost every day at Yale. We can go to the sandbox at the Good Life Center; we can indulge in a good Netflix binge; we can listen to an upbeat pop song. We find momentary “self-care” methods that do not address the underlying problem: so many of us are afraid to ask for help. Moreover, that fear is a product of our cultural backgrounds — the communities we come from and how we were raised.
We announce to our friends how late we stayed up studying for a test, writing an essay, filling out job applications. We normalize our struggle, wearing our suffering proudly on our chests like a badge. If we don’t announce the way we’ve crammed our lives with commitments — how our sleep and mental health are deteriorating — we deviate from what’s “normal” on campus. Sometimes, our mental health conversations all sound the same. But they’re not.
The way that we struggle, despite the fact that we talk about it in blanket statements, is not universal. Each of our relationships to mental health — and to asking for help in the first place — is individual. Just because we all repeat the same mantras, we cannot ignore the nuances of our lived experiences.
A study in 2018 by the National Institutes of Health concluded that college students of color represent a population whose mental health needs are left more unmet, relative to white students. Asian and Asian American students have the lowest prevalence of treatment, at only 20 percent among those with the most severe mental health conditions. I’m not saying this in order to make generalizations. I am saying this because if we don’t acknowledge the facts on the ground, things will never change.
The YCC is currently pushing for reform in mental health resources for students of color at Yale. And in 2018, representatives from Yale’s cultural centers shared their personal stories regarding mental health at a panel hosted by Mind Matters, a student organization that advocates for awareness about mental health. More than 80 students attended the event. Representatives from La Casa Cultural, the Afro-American Cultural Center and the Asian American Cultural Center participated.
The panelists agreed that the barriers that exist for students of color who try to access mental health resources at Yale are deep — barriers rooted not only in long histories of taboo around these subjects within students’ communities, but also in structural neglect of those populations from health practitioners.
Conversations about students of color and poor access to mental health resources have happened on campus, but they need to happen again — at panels, at Yale Mental Health and Counseling and in everyday life.
We can practice cultural sensitivity even when we talk to our friends. When a friend is struggling with anxiety, depression or anything else, we can’t simply tell them to get a therapist. We have to talk to them, if they are comfortable, about what it means to them to ask for help, and if help outside of Yale Mental Health and Counseling is financially feasible for them. We have to consider how it might be difficult to even talk about these issues in the first place, especially for students who didn’t grow up openly discussing mental health with parents and authority figures.
Many students come from families that do not talk openly about issues of mental health. And I am speaking from personal experience. Coming to college having never spoken before about mental health with my parents was a daunting experience.
Regardless of background and circumstance, mental health is a topic often associated with shame, but this shame is accentuated for those who have no concept of going to therapy in the first place. Students who have grown up with the idea that asking for help is a sign of bravery, that going to therapy is a step towards getting better, might feel that natural inclination when they reach out to Yale Mental Health & Counseling or outside resources. But for students like me, going to Yale Mental Health & Counseling might feel like an admission of weakness.
At a place like Yale where we learn to talk about our struggles in a universal way, we can forget that we don’t truly know the particular set of circumstances that shaped another student’s life, even the lives of our closest friends.
We need to be aware of the invisible circumstances operating behind our friends and peers’ relationship to their own mental health and mental health in general. Our language matters. We need to pay attention to how we talk about mental health with the people around us. Although we all live in the same space now, we need to remember that not all of us come to the table on the same footing.
MEGHANA MYSORE is a senior in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .