TW: This article discusses heavy topics such as depression and suicide.
Stay safe and be kind to yourself!
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Four months ago, I tried to end my life. I was on campus at the time and ended up calling FUEMS on myself. The first time I called, I got scared and said I made a mistake. But the person who answered the phone that night gently told me that I could call back if I changed my mind. I did. Since that day, I’ve had time to reflect, and now I want to communicate my experiences and the conclusions I’ve reached.
I’ve heard the phrase “mental health awareness” tossed around more frequently in recent years. While I’m glad that we’re starting discussions about mental illness and its tendency to intensify in stressful times–like periods of academic and social pressure that invariably accompany college life–the coincident rise of superficial compassion frustrates me. It’s easy to preach “mental health awareness;” addressing its root causes is much harder. Even though there is value in skincare routines, reading books, and heading outside, students need reassurance that their value isn’t contingent on maintaining a flawless academic record. Universities prioritize results, which creates a culture where a person’s worth gets conflated with their grades and achievements.
Fordham has mental health resources for students, but the issue lies in their accessibility. Mental illnesses make you afraid to take up space. Knowing someone might accuse you of needlessly seeking attention makes it difficult to ask for help. I need authority figures to know the signs someone is struggling. I need our professors to understand that there’s more going on beneath the surface, and students do need accommodations. I would rather risk letting some people “abuse” leniency than turn someone who’s genuinely suffering away.
To comply with increasingly unattainable standards of excellence, I would stay up all night because I thought I didn’t deserve to sleep while my work remained unfinished. I would take a short nap, wake up crying, and buy an energy drink to propel me through classes. I felt I didn’t have the right to ask for help. On the last day of finals, I went to the CPS offices and told them I was having an emergency. But, as I described my situation, my anxiety kicked in—I had my last final in an hour, and to me, it was more important than my life. I hoped that the bad feelings would go away, so I flipped the switch and pretended I was fine to go take my exam. Within 24 hours of leaving CPS, I was intubated at St. Barnabas.
The stigmatization of mental illness thrives in educational settings. There are days where getting out of bed feels like a Herculean effort. Missing a class generates immense guilt and disappointment, even without adding classmates’ watchful eyes and voluminous whispers. Being perceived as lazy or negligent in my studies still terrifies me.
Not everyone has access to good peer support systems. I was lucky to have a friend I trusted, and he encouraged me to talk to CPS. He even accompanied me to the offices when I felt scared to go alone.
I’ve heard mixed reviews on Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Some people have expressed that individuals at CPS “know and understand that you need help, but the university’s policy overrides their concerns.” I got a similar impression. Another friend of mine had a profoundly negative experience, but not with CPS, rather with Public Safety. “If they get wind that you’re not doing okay, you’re kicked off campus. They don’t want to be liable if something happens.”
Based on my friend’s experience, those worries were grounded – the fear that I might be involuntarily committed to a hospital factored into my reluctance to contact CPS and my later habit of understating my symptoms. My correspondence with the reentry team was immensely stressful, because for most of the summer, I didn’t know whether I would be allowed to return to Fordham. I was treated like a burden when I needed an ally.
That said, I am thankful for one of the stipulations for my return. I do biweekly check-ins with Pearse Walsh, one of the resident directors at Rose Hill. I feel that he sees me as a person. Last week, I also had a short meeting with Dean Garcia, someone I admire very much. She genuinely cares about students and understands that people are worthy of love and happiness without having to earn it in school. Last year, I didn’t know that members of Fordham’s administration would be willing to listen to me and make me feel safe.
Now, I know people who are scarily reminiscent of my past self. They need allies in administration more than I do, but they haven’t received the level of attention I have. We can’t reserve compassion for students who have already taken drastic actions.
Don’t say you embrace Cura Personalis. Show me.
And if you’re struggling, know that I am proud of you. Even if we’ve never met, I don’t know your name, and you don’t know mine. I swear to you that it gets better.