You can hear just about anything as you walk across Elon University’s campus. But one topic that is usually relegated to whispers behind closed doors is suicide. That’s something that needs to change.
When we don’t talk about the issues that members of our community face, it’s easy for them to feel alone. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-aged Americans.
The Elon community experienced this last year with the loss of Demitri Allison. Despite that this is the last week of National Suicide Prevention Month, Elon’s campus remains woefully quiet when it comes to issues of mental health. The conversation needs to start somewhere.
For me, the conversations on mental health began in fourth grade when I started seeing a psychologist. My mom would take me to the Dunkin Donuts, two storefronts over in the strip mall, so I wouldn’t complain as much.
A decade later, I vividly remember the embarrassment I felt when I ran into a classmate of mine outside the tutoring center next door, positive that he knew why I was there and was judging me for it.
By the time I was 14, I was suicidal. I spent a week in an inpatient program at a hospital, while my family and I told most of my friends that I had mono. Mental health conversations weren’t very active then either.
Seven years later, I still struggle with anxiety and depression. At Elon, talking about mental health with anyone other than my closest friends is difficult.
How do you differentiate between the exhaustion of depression from the rigors of the Elon student experience without telling every person who asks how you are that you suffer from depression?
For years, my answer has been that you don’t. I’ve been silent because, despite my knowledge that mental illness is a physical illness, too, there is rarely room for discussion about it on Elon’s campus.
Stories like mine aren’t uncommon. If my story is completely new to you, try to examine why you haven’t heard it before. Do you talk to your friends about their emotional and mental well-being? When you ask people how they are, do you expect an honest response? Do you give one when asked?
In the future, I hope that Elon will have a community where students with mental illnesses can discuss their symptoms the same way we talk about the flu or sprained ankles.
I don’t want my peers to feel like they have to stay silent like I did. We have a lot of work to do as a community, and focusing on mental health only one week a year is not enough to change the stigma surrounding it. I hope you show your support this week, but I ask that you don’t stop there. Make a commitment to change the stigma surrounding mental illness.
One of the taglines of the Active Minds at Elon campaign this week is, “The world needs you here.” These affirmations are important, but telling students who are struggling with depression that they matter is not enough.
If the world needs us here, then we need our community to support us. We need to talk about mental health until it’s the norm.
We need to recognize the strength of the people in our community who struggle with mental illness, including the people who have to ask for extensions on assignments and cancel plans because of it.
Let your friends know that they can come to you about their emotional well-being so that they know they can ask you for help.
Show them that you know mental illness is not a weakness.