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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Let’s Start Talking About Mental Health

<ame to Carleton as a freshman, I was excited to be entering a living environment supportive of my identity as a gay man for the first time. While my high school was accepting for the most part, a highly competitive atmosphere and only marginally supportive surrounding community meant there was little audience for my experiences. In my home life, my “deviant” sexuality was invisible. I punctuated my high school experience with a speech where I opened up about my struggles with self-hatred around my sexuality no one had had the patience to hear. Carleton, then, was a Utopia. I shared my story with lots of Carls at the National Coming Out Day Party, went to LGBTea time every week, joined Carleton In and Out, and went on Rainbow Retreat. My gay identity had been bottled up for so long and I was eager to let it out.

It wasn’t long, though, before this euphoria started to fade, and I started to think about other components of who I am. I started a journey to come to terms with the privileges afforded me by my gender and the color of my skin. I thought about how my Christianity fits into a largely atheist and agnostic school, and how it seems to contradict the gay identity people now quickly ascribed to me. But more than any of these, I thought most about the other main component of that speech I had given at the end of high school to an auditorium packed with students who felt constant pressure to conform to the image of perfection they were supposed to embody.

I told them about my struggle with depression. In an environment where insanely overloaded students would never say they were stressed and even answering “pretty good” to a simple “How are you?” was egregious, hearing that one of the top-achieving and seemingly happiest students in the school had depression was a shock. But the shock didn’t come from the fact that I had depression. The shock came from the fact that I talked about it. Whether they had clinical diagnoses or not, many of my high school friends had emotions they were afraid to talk about in public because they feared judgment. For me, opening up about my depression was a form of coping, and I was still so afraid that I was only able to share two weeks before graduation and two weeks after I admitted to myself that I still had a problem. Still, I wanted to make my high school a place where people could talk about it.

Carleton isn’t a place where people are talking about it. I’m pretty open about my depression, but every time I bring it up I still feel discomfort from many of the people around me. When I tell a friend I just really need to spend some time with them, I still feel guilty about the awkward place I’m putting them in. While I’ll go on for ages about my identity as a Christian or a Minnesotan or a gay man or really anything else, conversations about my depression rarely last more than a few sentences. But the thing is, my depression is a part of me too and I should be able to share my experiences without being afraid of distancing the people around me.

The problem at Carleton is that we don’t know how to have this conversation yet, a common plight with mental illness. We have to start somewhere, because a more open conversation about mental health is worth having. Everyone is affected by mental health in some way, whether personal or through a friend, family member, or other loved one. Not talking about struggles reinforces an environment where people are scared to seek help, feeding a vicious cycle that fosters more sadness, stress, and fear. Not talking makes mental illness scary and foreign, while the proportion of people with mental illness is actually higher than the percentage of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. Not talking prevents people from bringing their whole selves onto campus, forming an invisible barrier that convinces us that the people around us won’t understand or don’t need to be burdened with our problems.

We have to start talking about mental health and mental illness. Truthfully, Carleton has some of the same problems as my high school. Though we let our freak flags fly a lot more and I’ve had about .2% as many conversations about grades, Carleton is a place where we’re supposed to aim for an ideal. We go to purportedly the second happiest school in the country, which is pretty cool, but also doesn’t leave a lot of room to talk about feelings other than, well, happiness. I think the really special thing about the Carleton brand of happiness is that it reflects how wholly students can present themselves here. Talking about being sad or stressed in a moment might be challenging, but acknowledging a piece of a person they’ve been afraid to share helps them act as their whole self. Thus, embracing these hard conversations is necessary for a more positive and happy campus. With a little mindfulness and a bit of effort, we can have a campus where people can more honestly answer the question “How are you?”

To be part of this new conversation, come to Break the Silence Thursday, January 30th at 8:00 in the Cave hosted by the Mental Health Awareness Collective (MHAC). If you’d like to submit a story, go to by 11:59pm this Sunday. You can submit your story anonymously if you prefer.

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