by Sarah McLaughlin ’23
Even though talking about emotions comes more naturally to some people than others, it is never easy. For many, the thought of voicing a simple sentence like “I’m not doing okay” or “I think I need help” nauseates us. Sometimes you might not even be sure of what scares you. Other times, the fear is specific and ever-present in the front of your mind.
It is so easy to offer advice like “talk to your friends,” “talk to someone you trust,” “reach out for help when you need it.” I think those messages are good and vital ones. They also present commands that involve action on the part of the person in need of help, and taking such action is often an insurmountable challenge for those struggling with anxiety or depression. Not only does it necessitate an ability to speak for oneself, but it also implies that everyone has friends or someone to trust. Sometimes a lack of one or all of these things is one of the reasons behind someone’s suffering.
To do better as a campus and a community in regard to mental health, I believe that every single one of us has an obligation to be the friend, to be the person someone can trust. I am not just talking about your roommates, although that is a good place to start. Check in on them, especially if it seems like they are having an off day. But also when it seems like they are having a good day or an average day. We are all dealing with new obligations, being away from family, and adapting or re-adapting to an environment that poses an incredible amount of opportunities for education and excitement, but can also be overwhelming.
Try inviting someone who lives in a single in your dorm to get dinner. Seek out the person sitting by herself at your club’s meeting. Start a conversation with the person who sits next to you in class who is usually on their phone.
Of course, these are commands, too. And they might be just as daunting to follow. But they could be the difference between someone having a bad day and a good day, which could be the difference between a bad week and a good week, or a bad semester and a good semester.
The upperclassmen who took the time to speak to me when I was a freshman are people I still remember and I wonder sometimes if they know just how much of a difference they made. I have always been a socially anxious person, and I was unprepared for how wildly social our campus can be, to the point where I would find myself locked in my room or a bathroom stall just to avoid the sensory overload and the thought of knowing no one who would understand it. The people I have met who have given me a space to vent about my fears and concerns and even just express my interests have been invaluable to my college experience.
We all meet so many new people at the beginning of each year—even us seniors. We all search for people to latch onto in our new classes, new clubs, new residence halls, and new jobs. It is easy to say, “Don’t be afraid to talk to someone new,” but most of us probably are afraid, and there is not much we can do to quell that fear.
Perhaps just knowing it is something a large number of us experience simultaneously will make us feel a little more together and a little less alone. Let us try not to be afraid of being afraid together, and let us be attentive observers and listeners and askers of questions. We already do a lot of talking. Let’s use that strength to build a more communicative campus.