At the Activities Fair last Friday, I tabled for the Bridge Peer Counseling Center, the peer-counseling group that operates out of the Rogers House (call us 24/7 at 650-723-3392). If you’ve tabled at the Activities Fair before, you know that the freshmen are not afraid to put you on the spot. Each year I get asked point-blank, “What would I gain from joining the Bridge?” When I tell them it’s about the community, about helping people in need, they often lose interest. They are looking for hard facts – if only I could tell them that students who work at the Bridge have 14 percent higher starting salaries when they graduate.
It’s as if they don’t know that helping someone suffering from anxiety actually feels good. I always find myself wondering what I can say to make the most meaningful of my Stanford experiences seem more appealing to freshmen who are clearly looking for what they can get out of this, rather than what they could give back to the community, having not yet realized that there is almost always a positive correlation between the two. Typically by the end of our conversation, I’ve managed to scare them into signing up for emails, but the interactions always leave me wanting more.
Last spring, I wrote a column for The Daily after Samantha Wopat, a sophomore who lived in my residence, took her own life. I was overwhelmed when I returned from her memorial service and I wanted to write a piece that lots of people would see because I felt like it was time for the community to finally take on mental health issues as a whole. I was frustrated by the fact that her death had seemed to slip through the cracks of a busy midterm season and that some far-flung students living in the boondocks of Rains or Oak Creek may not even have known.
Looking back, I see that Sam’s death was really just the tipping point for me, the moment that made me commit, wholeheartedly, to doing everything I could to make the discussion about Stanford’s mental health culture a campus-wide discussion, not one that was confined to the Bridge or certain psychology courses. My deliberations with The Daily and the difficulty of getting the piece published made me realize that we were desperately lacking a forum in which to discuss mental health issues, a safe place where we could break down the stereotypes of Stanford being the happiest place on earth, hammer out the real truth about our ducky behavior, and come up with real strategies for these problems – not just in the aftermath of tragedy, but all the time.
I am writing this column to draw some of the most pressing issues of well-being, health, and happiness to the surface of our campus conscience. I hope that my weekly columns can be an open forum, a place where we can have a constructive dialogue about the mental state of our campus, and where you, the readers, will help me shed light on both the good and the bad of Stanford’s mental health efforts. The greatest success that I could hope to achieve with this column is to have my anecdotes or questions spark conversations at dinner tables or in the halls of freshman dorms.
In the past three years, I have realized time and time again that no matter whether I find myself trying to convince students to take mental health-themed courses, go to CAPS, or refer a struggling friend to the Bridge or SHPRC, Stanford students need guidance about mental health. Unlike algebra or writing skills, the majority of Stanford students do not arrive with a complete understanding of the mental health resources available to them. Students can spend a full four years here – often struggling through times when they would have benefited from one of the many initiatives that we do have – without being taught the intricacies of the CAPS scheduling system, being shown the little nook in Vaden where they can get free condoms from the SHPRC and without appreciating the incredible work that is constantly being done to make sure these resources don’t disappear.
I want everyone – the freshmen at the table last Friday, my neighbors down the hall, my friends and people I have never even met – to know about these resources, know that they make us different from other schools, and join the movement to make Stanford a healthier place. Because a fight for the eradication of mental health stereotypes does take a village – and luckily, we have one.
Emily would love to hear from you. Email her anytime at email@example.com.