Disclaimer: In the post below I address a number of issues related to mental health, there is mention of suicide. I hope that everyone who reads this blog understands I am in no position to make the claim as to whether these sorts of issues are representative of the Hopkins student body or not. At the very least however, I do feel justified in asserting that mental health illnesses are a large problem on college campuses across America. What is written below should only be taken as my experiences.
It’s quite surreal that my junior year is almost at an end. I still remember quite vividly the day I moved onto campus, sat alone in my dorm room for the first time looking out my window as it hit me that my parents had left and I was all alone. Now, a few years later, I can’t conceive of what it would mean to be alone at Hopkins. I feel as though I have a great support system; my girlfriend, friends, educators and professional staff in whom I can confide. Individuals who can support me when I’m down, and celebrate with me my successes. In that way I think myself immensely lucky. For the sad truth is, I know many students at Hopkins (and on college campuses across the US) who feel alone. I know many of my peers who don’t feel as if they have a support system on which they can depend, friends or confidantes to pick them up when the going gets tough, or perhaps worse, people in whom they can confide that the going has gotten tough..
Almost a year ago, my friend from home committed suicide. He, among other things, felt alone at his university in New York. He felt as if he had nowhere to go, and above all, felt as though the various pressures, social and academic were too much to bear. Mental health issues on college campuses have certainly been discussed more and more in the media the past few years, but at times, it can still seem as though such worries are far from one’s daily life. I know in my own experience, friends who’ve been depressed or suffering from a variety of other mental health issues are quick to brush things under the rug. “This is the worst week of my life.” “It’ll be fine once midterms are over.” “I’m just stressed.” Phrases of that sort are all too common, and don’t do much else other than deflect conversation from serious concerns. I of course, am just as guilty of sweeping those concerns under the rug. After all, no one wants to be the person who was too weak. No one wants to be the failure when everyone else around you is somehow capable of balancing academics, extra-curriculars, making time for the gym and still having fun on the weekends, while you’re failing Chemistry, your relationship is falling apart, you’re disappointing your parents, you’ve gained 10 pounds and don’t want to do anything that requires getting out of bed. Or at least that’s how it can seem. I’ve certainly been there.. I think many of us have, though few among us are willing to admit it. And while I can’t pretend to be a trained professional (nor do I play one on TV) I’m fairly confident that silence isn’t the answer.
I broke down crying that first day at Hopkins, as my parents left. Never in my life had I (or have I since) felt so utterly alone. In a sense, that independence which can be so liberating upon coming to college was paralyzing. I’m not sure where I would be if I had to deal with those feelings each and every day, I’m not sure where I would be if after failing courses, and worrying about my academic future, I had no outlet for dealing with those emotions in a healthy way. And while I may be lucky enough to say I don’t deal with feelings of that sort day in and day out, I know that far more than any of us are wont to admit, those feelings can be all too present, especially in the high-pressure cooker that can be a college campus.
I wish I had some easy answer, or cheerful message on which to end this post. I don’t, because the reality as of yet is far too sobering. A 19 year old man shouldn’t feel the need to take his own life. No qualifications to that sentence should be necessary. A 19 year old man should never feel that taking his own life is the only way out. I guess all I can say is, be aware of the resources around you, there are far more than I ever realized existed, a few of which I will link to below (both for Hopkins students, and the few other non-Hopkins readers of this blog), and more than anything else, though it may be more difficult than I can conceive, don’t be scared to talk about whats going on. To a friend, a loved one, or if no one else will listen, you can e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I wish I had an eloquent way in which to word this jumble of thoughts and emotions, I’ll leave that task to the infinite list of writers better than myself. At the very least however, I hope now, even if its just me, anyone reading this knows they have someone to whom they can talk .
Johns Hopkins Counseling Center- http://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/counselingcenter/
A Place to Talk (JHU)- http://pages.jh.edu/aptt/
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/