On Thursday night, the College community came together for You Are Not Alone, an unprecedented and much-needed recognition of the mental health issues that pervade our campus. In the period following the midterm cycle, Break the Silence Week and You Are Not Alone were impeccably timed within the context of the National Depression Awareness Month; it capably reminded us that the issues we each face as students at the College have solutions as long as we are willing to reach out to people and take advantage of the resources that surround us. As the culminating event of Break the Silence Week, You Are Not Alone proved that students are yearning to talk about difficult situations, and that the culture of silence we so often criticize doesn’t have to be the status quo. The Mental Health Committee (MHC) and the students who were brave enough to speak that night deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. They reminded us that the College is a supportive community. You Are Not Alone certainly lived up to its name, convincing many students that indeed they are not alone in dealing with these issues.
In thinking about ways to continue the significant strides made last week, the MHC would do well to consider ways to make You Are Not Alone and Break the Silence Week even more effective. Firstly, while You Are Not Alone started conversations amongst the many students who attended, the fact that the event occurred at the end of Break the Silence Week left students without any further organized programming or opportunities for fruitful discussion. The supportive environment in Goodrich would have been effective as a starting point for Break the Silence Week. If the MHC decides to make this change in future iterations of the week, increasing the number of smaller forums for students, both to share their stories and listen to professionals, would be helpful in extending those conversations. While You Are Not Alone deserves to stand at the head of Break the Silence Week, Thursday night is the most appropriate weeknight to schedule an all-campus event of this magnitude; perhaps future Break the Silence Weeks should occur from Thursday to Thursday rather than Monday to Thursday.
Furthermore, while You Are Not Alone certainly hit close to home for so many of us, the MHC should remain cognizant of the issues that were missing from the night’s dialogue. Disordered eating, the sophomore slump, entry discomfort and homesickness are significant issues at the College, yet the speakers at You Are Not Alone focused almost exclusively on depression, substance abuse and suicide. This emphasis is understandable given the way the event evolved – once people began speaking on certain topics, it galvanized others to speak on those same topics. Nevertheless, future organizers should be wary of intensifying the hierarchy of importance regarding mental health issues, which many students already feel prevents them from talking about issues perceived as being minor. In the future, the MHC should strive to have a wider array of keynote speakers who can touch the range of problems – both big and small – that students face.
Looking beyond this one awareness week, the MHC – currently composed on an ad hoc basis – should become a standing committee open to all who are interested in joining. This body should be responsible for encouraging mental health discussions throughout the year in addition to planning an institutionalized You Are Not Alone. Additionally, the committee’s careful coordination with Peer Health, Active Minds and Psychological Counseling Services is a strong start, but these bodies and the MHC should now focus on planning a variety of events throughout the year. Mental health issues cannot, and should not, be pressed into the tight confines of a one-week period; these are persistent issues on campus, and they should be addressed on a regular basis. A weekly circle on campus, in which all students are able to discuss their issues with peers, could be a valuable therapeutic environment for students who don’t feel comfortable with traditional means of therapy.
By giving students access to a variety of safe spaces in which they can feel comfortable talking about mental health, the MHC and other college organizations involved with mental health and well-being will encourage those who are more secretive to feel comfortable in sharing their feelings. In this vein, the College should consider introducing conversations about mental health during First Days; it seems that mental health deserves the same permanent standing as the equally prominent issues of alcohol and sexual assault. A First Days event could be beneficial to first-years as they become accustomed to the College community and the stresses often encountered here.
Only by keeping mental health at the forefront of campus discussion will we achieve the open and supportive community we long for at the College. You Are Not Alone was exceptional, but it was only a first step. The MHC must now continue its work in broadening conversations about mental health challenges on campus and increasing the community’s comfort with discussing these issues.
Due to his position as co-chair of the Mental Health Committee, Record Editor-in-Chief Matthew Piltch ’12 abstained from conversations regarding this editorial.