This wasn't supposed to be a "reaction article." This was supposed to be encouragement to those suffering to get help, an attempt at reviewing resources, a guide for friends of sufferers and a plea to take care of each other. It’s been drafted and re-edited by countless sources for months now. It wasn’t supposed to be immediately relevant.
No matter how often Sherman Ave jokes about being a drinking group with a blogging problem, no matter how much you wish you could just starve off your holiday haunches, no matter how happy a manic episode sounds, mental health is a serious issue across college campuses, Northwestern included. At best, it’s intrusive; at worst, it’s deadly. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and ignoring that because we haven't (yet) developed a diagnosis of depression based on stool samples can be just as dangerous as ignoring a physical health problem.
For many disorders, the median age of onset is between late adolescence and age 30. Onset is most likely to occur during major life changes or stressful times- like college freshmen adjusting to having been lifted a thousand miles from home and dropped in the middle of a strange place full of thousands of weird people, selective clubs, midterms like meteor showers, funny foreign substances, and that kid in your dorm who does everything you do way better than you.
This article doesn’t have all the answers. Here’s what we can tell you.
--Help is available. You have to seek it.
Seeking it is the worst part, right? A good number of us are tough, self-sufficient, intelligent Wildcats who have problems asking someone else to open our jelly jars. Asking someone to help you bear a burden is unthinkable. But that's why humans live in groups; we survive as a species every day by taking care of each other. Asking to talk or deciding to take a medicine are not admissions of weakness or inability, nor are they burdensome to others, and yes, you do deserve to be healthy. No matter how severe your need is, someone out there is able and willing to help you. You have CAs, PAs, pre-orientation counselors, family, friends, professors, and organizations both on- and off-campus who care about you and want to see you succeed.
Sure, some people may not "get it." That's their problem. About one in four other people do. Chances are you know someone who understands firsthand, and chances are even higher that you know someone who cares about you and is willing to listen.
Northwestern has had four suicides in the community in the past year. Even one is too many. I did not personally know those students, just as I don't personally know most of you who will read this. Please, please use what resources are available to you - there are other ways to end suffering.
- CAPS. Always a campus controversy. A lot of people have terrible experiences with it, and a lot of people who have their lives back. It leaves a lot to be desired. Being on the waitlist at CAPS is like being in line for a bathroom where half the stalls are covered in shit. Don’t piss yourself; get in line or find another bathroom.
CAPS also offers general wellness classes, stress-relief and relaxation seminars, and other events.
- Women’s Center, Not Just For Women. Clearly a resource with a branding problem, they offer other counseling services, support groups, and sexual health resources.
- Dean of Student’s Office and NUhelp. A fantastic but lesser-known resource from the administration. Dean of Student’s Office offers a Dean On Call crisis service, and houses NUhelp, which makes referrals and offers general help.
- NU Active Minds. A student-run service dedicated to fighting stigma and, as they put it, “changing the conversation.”
- Sexual Health and Assault Peer Education and CARE. Usually SHAPE just gives you free condoms with lube that lasts exactly as long as it takes for a Nerdwestern student to get off. But they also offer resources for sexual assault, relationship violence, and LGBT-friendly resources.
- Friends: Even if you think you have none, even if you’re not someone who can easily talk about these things, you matter to someone.
- Keep an eye out for NU Listens and National Alliance on Mental Illness, relatively new student-run organizations on campus.
--Don't wait for things to get extreme to start taking care of yourself.
When you have an infection, you don't wait until just before the bacteria eat your kidneys to start taking antibiotics. You start trying to wipe them out ASAP. Don't wait until you're one midterm away from a breakdown to deal with things. Do what you can, as early as possible.
--Take care of each other.
Not-so-fun fact: 26.2% Americans ages 18 and over suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. That’s a little over one in four; roughly the same as the percent of undergrads who have taken Russian Lit with Morson, and almost twice the NU acceptance rate (13.9%).
One in four is a massive number. That means if it's not you, it's someone on your floor, in your friend group, at your workplace, in your fraternity/sorority - you get the picture.
Ask people how they're doing, and take time to listen to the answer. Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for. Remember this phrase: “I’m sorry you’re hurting. It sucks. Can I help?” Say it. Learn what they need, not what you think they need. Be flattered that someone trusts you, and do not keep secrets that will hurt them.
I can't sit here with my keyboard and convince your friend to go get help. You have to.
This is why humans live in groups. We survive by taking care of each other.
For those who have a story to share, want someone to talk to - feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.