I could walk around Tech any day and overhear:
“Don’t complain. I’m in six organizations, I chair four committees and I go out every weekend, so…suck it up.”
“I got raped by three tests, and my professor destroyed me in my presentation. I’m just gonna go get high again and forget about it all.”
“Last weekend was AWESOME! I got drunk Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday! I don’t remember much, but…trust me. It was awesome. Especially after I finally got out of that dumb relationship.”
Tech’s culture is rather perverse, isn’t it? Our camaraderie over misery. Our competition to be the best at being stressed and the worst at managing it. Our acceptance of wildly uncontrollable distress as a fact of life. Our succumbing to binge drinking, substance abuse, insomnia, eating disorders and other destructive behavior to cope. Our destruction of ourselves and our spirits. In the pursuit of what?
What’s worse is that we turn to ourselves and substances because we think coping on our own is a symbol of strength. Only wusses ask for help, and only pansies make a big deal out of it.
But across campus, the threats to our lives are not HOPE, our football season or even campus safety, topics we never seem to exhaust discussing. Instead, WE are our biggest threats, but we’re so afraid to talk about it.
It always takes the loss of one of our fellow Tech students to start the mental health discussion, but the conversation quickly goes away, as if not talking about it is what protects the Tech community. Some avoid it out of respect for the lost student’s memory, but I genuinely believe Tech students are incredibly compassionate, and it is actually disrespectful to the memories of those we’ve lost to not actively advocate for more support for students who might follow the same path. While suicide is a terrifying culmination of any number of issues, living with that psychological distress is just as terrible.
The solution is to make the improvement of mental health at Tech a goal of every member of the community and to eliminate the stigma associated with asking for help.
If you are experiencing distress, talk to someone. Don’t undermine your concerns because, if you ignore them, they will escalate to something awful. The Counseling Center, in the Division of Student Affairs, is a wonderful resource with services for students at any hour. If you’re not ready to go there, talk to a friend, a mentor, a professor or an advisor; get the help you need.
Yet, I know what it’s like to be stressed to the point of borderline depression and to not even realize it. The burden of recognizing an issue can’t be shouldered by each individual. We belong to each other, and we need to build a community of protecting each other from ourselves. Don’t make light of signs of distress. If you see something, say something.
Furthermore, while the Counseling Center offers quality services, it is limited in its ability to reach all of campus. Outreach programs focused on mental health can be much more effective if they are run by our peers; nothing is more empowering than remembering that the many who are here with you are here for you. Student advocacy also goes a long way in finding resources for mental health. Students need to actively identify mental health as a serious problem to themselves and to the Institute to make progress.
Building a community of protecting our students should be driven by faculty as well, especially considering that the bulk of stress is academic in nature. Professors should be just as attentive to students as they are to their research. Countless professors adopt philosophies that essentially say, “I survived getting a Ph.D., so your stress is meaningless to me,” and this is incredibly destructive to the student spirit. Students should be able to look to faculty not only for education, but also for support and mentorship, and eliminating this adversarial relationship is the first step.
Finally, if there is one thing that disgusts me about Tech, it’s that, for 127 years, we have taken a bizarre sense of pride in our misery. Not only do we connect with each other today in this way, but we also connect with our past, hoping to not become weaker, more passive or more dependent. But there is nothing wrong with being human, and there is nothing—absolutely nothing—wrong with saving us from ourselves.