I’d like to think of this as a thank-you note of some sort. Make that two thank-you notes: one to College Council, Peer Health, and Active Minds, who organized Break the Silence Week and the You Are Not Alone on Thursday evening, and the other to those who were brave enough to speak during You Are Not Alone.
I’d like to address the organizers first. As I walked toward Paresky on Oct. 24, I immediately felt a sense of sadness come over me. The 1100 daisies on Paresky lawn served as a memorial to the 1100 college students who commit suicide every year. To put that number in perspective, that’s half of the Williams student body. Every year. Hopefully you are not one of the people who has been touched by suicide in some way – whether you have had a friend or family member who has struggled with the idea or you have struggled with the possibility yourself. Regardless of whether or not you have been affected, I’m sure you agree that we all want to be there for people who have. It doesn’t seem like we take enough time out of our busy schedules to talk about suicide and depression. In fact, my one complaint about the week was that there was so much other stuff going on. If you walked into Paresky last Monday, there was a table by the door that explained the memorial and provided pins and pamphlets discussing mental health. I fear, however, that you may have been overwhelmed by the amount of excellent free food in Paresky for National Food Day and missed it. People selling Frosh Revue tickets with loud music added to the chaotic environment. I think that this interruption of the peace took something away from the suicide memorial. In a way, the scene at Paresky was symbolic of depression and mental health in general: While someone ’s own life might feel at a standstill, life for others continues as normal.
Unfortunately, the only other event of Break the Silence week I was able to attend was You Are Not Alone. The program began with three keynote speakers who shared stories about their struggles with depression and mental health. The speakers were followed by an open mic session in which other student could share their experiences if they chose to. This event allowed people to share things about themselves that they might not have felt comfortable talking about in the past. There were many moving stories told, and something incredible happened: While many people shared, many more came to support their friends, classmates, teammates and others in the community. All the seats in Goodrich Hall were filled, and many sat on the floor, stage and upstairs. The outpouring of support made me proud to be part of the Williams community.
Now I would like to thank the people who made You Are Not Alone worthwhile – those who spoke. The three keynote speakers, who were willing to share their stories, made other people comfortable enough to share their own. They set a tone that made people confident that they truly “are not alone” and that it is okay to share their stories. They were willing to put themselves out there to show that issues with depression may be more common than many people think.
Following the speakers, a lot of inspiring, sad, moving, incredible things were said during the open mic session. I want to mention two things in particular that I took away. The first was the importance of a friend, a shoulder to lean on, someone to ask what is wrong. Obviously, we all have incredibly busy schedules at the College, but we need to take more time out of our busy days to check on those who are upset – whether it’s an entrymate, a friend or a stranger who you see crying in the bathroom. People might act like they don’t want to talk, but often they just want someone to show he or she cares. Sometimes, the problem may be deeper than doing badly on a math test or playing badly in a game. If someone says something is wrong, listen to him or her. Don’t belittle what they have to say. You could be that person who makes someone rethink suicide, or just the person who reminds him or her that what he or she is feeling is real.
The other idea that came through in many of the stories was that depression is a cycle, an ongoing fight that people engage in daily. People don’t want to feel sad; they don’t want to have bad days or be “stuck.” Sometimes, they can’t help it though. Be there for them through that struggle. Stick by their side and remind them that you’re not going anywhere, no matter how many times they call you crying from a Paresky bathroom.
In the end, I was incredibly moved by You Are Not Alone. Many people chose to share their stories. I’m sure if you saw them walking around campus, you would have no idea that they struggle every day. I’m so impressed by their willingness to share their stories. Their bravery and courage is unbelievable. If you didn’t make it to Goodrich on Thursday, you might want to think about going the next time there is a similar event. You never know what you’ll learn about that person who lives on your hall or sits in the back of your math class. Until then, keep reaching out to people; you never know who is hurting. At the College, we pride ourselves on our sense of community. Let’s make sure it’s a community where everyone feels welcomed and safe.
Ali Piltch 14 is from Bryn Mawr, Penn. She lives in Thompson.