Since I’ve gotten to Wesleyan, I’ve noticed that everybody seems like they have their entire lives put together. In an ostensible way, every student has perfect study habits, impeccable time management skills, and low stress levels. We all know this isn’t true, but why is no one talking about their struggles rather than their perfect success?
At a school like Wesleyan, virtually every student is high-achieving: everyone wants to put in their best effort, and consequently, reap the best rewards. But what happens when you don’t do your best? What happens when you are struggling, but are not willing to let anyone know?
I’ve seen the ramifications of this toxic culture that we have at Wesleyan. When people refuse to let others know the extent of their struggles, they internalize their emotions; this internalization leads to a downward spiral filled with anxiety, sadness, and ultimately, resentment for their fellow peers. Wesleyan is designed to be an environment in which it is safe to fail. Our open curriculum and supposedly collaborative setting are conducive to failure, and consequently, growth. But if everyone is so concerned about appearing to have their lives together, how can we achieve this?
Mental health issues run rampant on college campuses. Per the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 40% of college students have felt more than an average amount of stress within the past 12 months. Want to know how many students have reached out and tried to receive help? Only 42%. That means that more than half of the students who would have benefitted from receiving some sort of help neglected to do so. The number one reason for students to not reach out? Concern of the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues. Students are willing to neglect and deprive themselves of their own mental well-being to maintain some semblance of a perfect image. I don’t know about you, but this seems awfully concerning to me.
I don’t have a perfect solution for this problem. I don’t have all of the answers to solving the challenges that mental health provides for college students. What I do know, however, is that the only way people will be able to eliminate the negative stigma surrounding mental illness is by talking about it. When students talk about the problems that they face, they break down the facades that they put up around themselves to appear perfect. The only way that we will be able to solve the problem of mental health is by speaking about our experiences with it, allowing people to see that they are not alone. Everyone is going through something, it is just a matter of whether or not they choose to talk about it.