With winter looming and finals just around the corner, we both thought that it would be a good time to talk about mental health. Everyone’s journey towards realizing the importance of mental health is different. We think our own personal experiences make this clear. Despite our different, sometimes difficult, paths, we have both recognized the importance of mental health in our own lives, as well as becoming cognizant of the role that mental health plays in the lives of those we care about. What follows is a brief description of our own journeys with mental health, as well as some of our shared thoughts and advice on positively interacting with mental health on campus.
MM: I started thinking about mental health my first year at Williams. I remember going to Mental Health Committee’s “You Are Not Alone” and being amazed at the diversity of the mental health experiences on this campus. To be honest, mental health was something I never really thought about in high school. But after seeing “You Are Not Alone” for the first time, I had to be honest with myself. This was something that I needed to think about more. I needed to think about mental health in my own life and also mental health in the lives of the people I cared about. For me, this time was a little confusing. I wanted to be a supporter, but I felt like I didn’t know how. I remember distinctly one night freshman year a friend coming to talk to me and after, feeling like I did nothing to help. Sure, I listened, but I said nothing insightful and I certainly didn’t solve any of the things he was thinking about. But eventually I realized something important: When it comes to supporting, you can be enough. It is great to know the facts of mental health. But a lot of times all you need to support someone is to want to support them. Not knowing exactly what my friend was feeling didn’t mean I couldn’t listen to him. A lot of times I think we are too hard on ourselves about how we act when we are supporting and are so worried about doing or saying the wrong thing that we do nothing. I know I was, and I worry that that stopped me from being the supporter I needed to be. While I’m still not a perfect supporter, and I know I never will be, I still try. And I think that is what is important.
BH: Like Matt, mental health was never something that was really on my radar until I came to college. The invisibility of it, and my lack of experience and exposure to it made it difficult for me to fully empathize and understand what others were going through. However, over the course of the year, personal struggles with mental health along with an increased awareness through talking to others helped bring to light just how common and widespread struggling with mental health is. I had to really reflect on stigmas that I had unknowingly internalized in order to break them. Although at first I didn’t feel comfortable or equipped to support my friends who were struggling, the more I tried, the better I became. Giving myself room to not feel like I had to give the “perfect response” allowed me to learn how to provide the best support I could. Reaching out and listening meant more to my friends then knowing exactly how to alleviate their issues. When I stopped trying to see myself in a therapeutic role and instead let it be known that I cared about them, the pressure I felt dissipated. By reorienting my role I was able to be the supporter and facilitate a relationship that was ultimately the best for all parties involved.
The final thing we encourage this campus to do (and we think its something this campus already does a pretty great job of) is to be proactive about mental health. This suggests two behaviors. First, being proactive about supporting those struggling with mental health. If you see someone feeling down, don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing. If someone wasn’t doing so great before, don’t be afraid to check in with them to see if things have gotten better, and to be there if they haven’t. We’ve heard countless stories about, and experienced ourselves, the difference one person asking how your day was can make when you are feeling down. Second, being proactive and honest about one’s own mental health. We’ve both dealt with the struggle of asking for the help that we need. Whether because of concerns about being a burden, feeling an issue is too trivial to talk about, internalized stigma or feeling like nothing can be done, it can be really hard to ask for support sometimes. Yet for both of us, when we did take this step, our lives became a lot better. Whether this was talking to someone at Psych Services, trying to sleep well and exercise or calling our moms once a day, making sure to take the time we needed to live healthy, balanced lives was the best thing we could do for our overall well-being.
Finally, every semester Mental Health Committee hosts “You Are Not Alone,” a night to stand in solidarity with students who have been impacted by issues affecting their emotional, physical or social wellbeing. This semester’s will take place this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Log. We encourage everyone to come by to show their support of the Williams community and learn about the issues affecting their peers!
Brady Hirsch ’16 is a political science and economics double major from Oakland, Calif. He lives in Garfield. Matt McNaughton ’16 is a computer science and political science double major from State College, Penn. He lives in Sage Hall.