Nicole Patano ’22
Things Are Not Always What They Seem
So Treat People With Kindness, Dammit
Mental Health Awareness Month, a nationally celebrated effort to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, kicks off in just over a week.
In perfect timing for this month, I recently had the opportunity to read How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind by La Marr Jurelle Bruce and meet the author in one of my classes. At the center of Bruce’s work is a call for radical compassion, a will to care for and commitment to feel with the “madpersons,” “freaks,” “weirdos,” and “unReasonable others.” Radical compassion goes beyond empathy. When you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, Bruce says, you are inevitably “leaving them existentially barefoot all the while.”
With this year’s awareness campaign for Mental Health Awareness Month being “Together for Mental Health,” now is the perfect chance for members of the Providence College community to learn how to extend radical compassion to everyone on our campus and beyond. Whether it be the student falling behind on their classwork or the homeless man talking to himself on the street, all people are deserving of radical compassion. No matter how inconvenient or detestable it may seem, we must learn how to extend radical compassion to anyone and everyone.
Mental Health Awareness Month comes on the tail end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which warrants a conversation of its own. With women in college experiencing sexual assault at three times the rate of women in general, it is likely that you know a woman at PC who has been sexually assaulted. It is well documented that sexual assault survivors, regardless of gender identity, are at greater risk for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, anxiety, and eating disorders. Thus, we need to treat everyone we meet with sensitivity and compassion, regardless of what we know or think we know about them.
Radical compassion requires that we not only extend compassion to those with mental illnesses who conform to normal society—the people who are able to blend in undetected. It also requires us to care for the depressed person who has not showered in two weeks, the anxious person who has not responded to your messages, the suicidal person who drifts off during lectures and conversations, and the person with an eating disorder who makes a mess of the communal bathroom.
It is not enough to empathize with people you relate to—in other words, those who wear the same sized shoe. Radical compassion is radical for the very reason that it necessitates caring for people who appear completely different from you. Realizing that your humanity is bound to theirs and that their mental health impacts overall health is truly radical, and undeniably necessary.