Mental Illness should be discussed in community

Mental health disorders at Calvin are certainly not a taboo topic, but they are an uncomfortable one.

All too often, struggles with depression and anxiety, psychiatric hospitalizations and discussions about eating disorders are relegated to Broene and Health Services, where they’re addressed but remain neatly tucked away, out of sight.

Because of this, I initially wasn’t sure where to start my research for this week’s feature. I didn’t know if any students would be willing to share their stories with a wider audience, or what those stories would look like.

But they were willing. They sat down with me, a total stranger, at tables in Biggby and the Fish House and apartment lobbies, and shared openly about their lives and their struggles with mental health because they all agreed that these are stories that need to be told. And they are stories that specifically need to be told at Calvin.

Many of these students explained that they perceive Calvin’s culture to be one of perfection, one where you don’t talk too much about your problems because everyone else seems to have it all together.

However, last year 20 percent of the Calvin student body was seen at the Broene Counseling Center. The number of Calvin students hospitalized per year for psychiatric reasons has more than quadrupled in the past five years.

Yet despite the high number of students experiencing mental health disorders, despite the generally wide acceptance and positive recognition that Broene now has on campus, during these conversations over the past couple months I had multiple students look me in the eye and say, “I thought I was the only one.”

Mental health disorders can feel isolating because it is often a private struggle. We wrestle alone with the darkness in our lives because we are afraid to wrestle in community, afraid that we are the only ones who fail to live up to the standard — whatever that standard is.

One place where students with similar struggles can meet together is the Broene support groups, a safe environment to go and talk each week about living with anorexia, fighting with anxiety or learning mindful meditation as a way to combat depression.

But if we as a community are truly committed to loving one another and supporting each other, these conversations need to go farther than Broene. We need to talk about depression and bipolar disorder and bulimia, in our dorms, apartments, classes and choirs.

Because there are students who are are struggling just to hang on. And there are students who want to offer hope and support but honestly don’t know how.

In the midst of our brokenness, let’s move towards each other and not away. This means being willing to have difficult conversations, listening well to other people’s stories and asking questions and being present in each other’s lives.

Because in community, other people can help us hold onto hope when we feel it slipping through our fingers. They can remind us of the truth that darkness does not have the final say in our lives and in our world.

Calvin can expand counseling opportunities. It can work with crisis care teams and educate professors, but until we as a student body become more comfortable talking about mental health, students will continue to feel isolated and alone.

 

As students at Calvin, the power to shift perceptions on campus around mental health lies in our hands. Let’s find ways to continue the conversation, speaking courageously and listening well.