Seeking support

Mental health activist Jordan Burnham’s Claiming Williams Day talk changed the way we think about support. Speaking about finding the support we need, Jordan Burnham repeated one message over and over: “Don’t give up!” He feels finding the support one needs is a journey, and we agree. Like any journey, the first step will hopefully not be the last. As Burnham put it, “Most people don’t go on one bad date and give up on dating altogether.” In the same vein, even if a first attempt to find support isn’t as successful as we might hope, it is important to try again. Finding the right support is a process. It doesn’t always follow the straight trajectory we might like.

McNaughton: Burnham’s message resonated with me. Before listening to his speech, I went to Psych Services just once, and my session was not everything I had hoped for and expected. I wasn’t sure what to discuss with the counselor; there wasn’t a single issue of crisis in my life, just a couple of bad days in a row. Faced with a new person, I was hesitant to open up. I left the session stressed and discouraged. At this point I made the mistake of giving up on Psych Services. Never mind that I had talked about one issue with one counselor, when there were many possible issues to be talked about with many possible counselors; I convinced myself that Psych Services wasn’t for me.

In hindsight, I question my thinking. One of my best friends went to two different counselors and was able to build trust over a relationship of six months. Only after all this was she comfortable and willing to delve deeper into what she wanted to talk about. But at the time of my visit, I didn’t understand the process. I viewed “support” as a monolithic entity. After Burnham’s speech, I’ve realized “support” has a much more diverse range of forms. Support is Psych Services when I want to speak in a more formalized context. But support also requires being truthful with friends and family about when I need to talk and what I need to talk about, no matter how small. Burnham’s words encouraged me to be a lot more proactive in looking for the support I want and need.

Hirsch: Unfortunately, finding support is not the most intuitive process. It requires accepting a level of vulnerability and honesty that makes a lot of us uncomfortable. In a culture where self-sufficiency is venerated and problems are addressed from an analytical standpoint, understanding and directly facing our emotional health is arduous. In practice, mental health is not strictly rational. No matter how hard we try, we won’t always be able to reason our way out of what we are feeling. We can be so internally focused and ensnared that we lose perspective and when we look for support, we often externalize these feelings. When confiding in a counselor or friend, we may hope that they’ll give us the answers to our problems like a professor during office hours. The truth is that our emotional and mental well-being are much more complicated. There are not necessarily easy answers or fast solutions and this reality is tough to accept; the rules we learn in our academics don’t always apply and facing our problems head-on can be frustrating and scary.

However, just because the gains are not immediate does not mean that seeking support is pointless. Finding the right therapist and friends to meet your emotional needs is a journey and should be approached as such. It takes time and patience, but the longer you stick with it, the more you realize that you are not alone.

Hirsch and McNaughton: With Burnham’s words, and our own personal experiences in mind, we hope to help change the dialogue about finding support on this campus. Being supported is a personal journey. It takes time to find the right people. Even after finding the right people, it takes time to feel comfortable with them. Most of us can do more to actively seek out the support we need. In doing so, we are not alone. As a campus, we mistakenly believe something has to be catastrophic before we look for support. This is not true. Mental health is one of the few areas in which we think like this. We don’t expect the best athletes to develop all their talent by themselves: They have coaches, trainers and teammates. We don’t expect the best students to learn everything alone: They have professors and many, many academic resources. Mental health and self-care are no different. We all need support. We wish you the best of luck on our collective journey to get it.

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.

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