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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

“Be fine”

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For weeks during the summer of 2014, I was passive suicidal. I remember having so much sadness in me it became physically debilitating just to exist – to carry out any basic everyday task, let alone to do art – the single devotion that has been there to keep me sane throughout the years. I remember trying to reach out to my best friend about my depression, only to have her ask “Why?” I often asked myself that too. Why was I so sad? Why me? I couldn’t find the answers to those questions for a while. I even tried to work out for hours on end – because exercise produces endorphins, right? And aren’t they supposed to “cure” you of sadness? That didn’t work for me. For a while, I forgot who I was. I started to associate “being home” with negative thoughts and feelings. Every single trip home for school vacations came with such impending dread of when the dark cloud of sadness would come next, until I realized that my depression is recurring, and it could come regardless of where I am, even when it is midterm week at Carleton. So I accepted my mental illness. I realized that depression needs no explanation. I told myself to be kind (both to myself and others). I know there are others out there who never deserve the dark cloud of sadness that I feel.

But being at Carleton doesn’t allow one to be sick – physically and even more so mentally. Miss one day of class and you’ll be catching up to an impending snowball of stress and anxiety. So you tell yourself to “be fine” and go through the mundane, dragging an invisible weight on you – put on a smile, the show must go on. It is the invisibility of this illness that makes it so hard to reach out to others. Break a leg and others will ask for a dramatized story of how you got it, swarming you with heartfelt “get better soons” and helping you with mobility issues. Yet, how does one bring up their mental conditions without sounding like a Debbie Downer or choking up into tears?

We live in a “chill” culture. We are supposed to keep our emotions under control, to be calm and composed; emotions and tears are messy and uncomfortable and people don’t know how to react to them. We are inundated by teenagers on social media abusing phrases like “so depressed I wanna kill myself right now” on every miniscule matter that we start to take the seriousness of mental health for granted. Many start to consider calls for help to be attention-seeking and overdramatic, only to be sorry when suicides actually happen.

The media and popular culture create such an intrigue around mental illness it seems like anyone who suffers from mental illness are bound to be violent and psychopathic. White males public shooters are excused for their crimes because of an unsound mind. Hollywood represents (or rather, misrepresents) mental illness in its portrayals of Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates, deluding the public with an image of deranged killers, creating a shield of myths around mental conditions.

Mental illness becomes “risk factors” among colleges, and those with mental conditions are considered “liabilities.” Severe mental health conditions come along with risks of suicide, and what’s worse, bad reputation for the college. So, on college campuses, students choose to hide their mental illnesses in fear of being “asked to leave/asked to withdraw”; they know such leaves not only cause a disruption in their academic progress, but also place a “questionable” mark on their academic record which raises a red flag to employers out of the same liability factor.

In Carleton College’s 2015 College Student Health Survey, 35.9% “report being diagnosed with at least one mental health condition within their lifetime,” yet only 4.8% “report contacting a mental health crisis line within the past 12 months,” and 11.6% “report they currently are taking medication for a mental health condition.” Mental illness is a conversation topic much overdue on campus. It is important for us to acknowledge its prevalence, to dispel the myths and stigma around it and to evaluate the college’s treatment of students with mental health problems.

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