The Bridge held its first-ever suicide drill last weekend. Staffers receive basic training about how to deal with suicidal callers, but this drill offered a unique opportunity for staffers to witness a comprehensive role-play complete with presentations from the Stanford Police and Residential Education.
As part of the drill, the Stanford police did a very realistic mock “5150” examination of our actor. A 5150 is the examination of mental state that police do to determine whether someone needs to be hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. When asked to describe how police typically go through their protocol without drawing attention to and shaming the student being examined, one of the officers said that he tells students that there is no stigma associated with being taken to the emergency room because you need some help. My first reaction to this answer was disbelief – how could someone experienced in this field say that there is no stigma in being admitted to the hospital for mental illness when it’s hard enough to even get students to admit that they’re stressed out? But then I realized that this borderline-fantastical sentiment is my dream for Stanford.
When helping someone problem-solve about a situation in the realm of peer counseling (or more broadly applied, in the realm of friendship), it’s often a good thought exercise to ask them to think of the best possible outcome. A request to do so is often followed by uncomfortable laughter or rolling of the eyes, and then some sort of statement like, “Not that this would ever happen, but…”
Writing this column on mental health has inspired me to do the same thing for mental health on campus. I have been inspired by the many kind comments, emails and notes that I received about my columns – from students expressing relief that their emotions and experiences at Stanford had been validated by seeing stories like theirs printed in The Daily to parents and professors lamenting the degree to which stigma inhibits healthy decisions among college students – that I have dared to rethink what is possible for our community wellness. I view the outpouring of responses to simple ideas about well-being and self-care, for example, as a sign that the Stanford community is more ready than ever to make big changes in the right direction, to reconsider our collective priorities and to make sure that our education system is serving us well both academically and mentally.
I now see the “best case scenario” for Stanford as one in which this school becomes a place where telling someone that you’re going to CAPS after class is not any more unusual than going to Arrillaga (the gym, dining hall or Alumni Center), where getting enough sleep and having time to talk to friends reaches the top of the to-do list rather than CS assignments and consulting interview prep and where “How are you?” is not a pleasantry exchanged in passing but a question that is only asked when you really want to know the answer and when you’re ready to support someone as they tell you about their life.
I want to leave you with this: As the words of the police officer at the drill on Saturday and responses from readers like you have reminded me, strive to have huge expectations of yourself and others in whatever circle of campus culture you dwell. For me, this means imagining the impossible and working toward the end goal of a campus that is free of stigma and social pressure and negative connotation and stereotypes of mental illness. Work toward these lofty goals as if there will not be a chance to work on them tomorrow.
And finally, as community members, recognize that no matter what you do, you are part of the equation. We live an interdependent life at Stanford in which we are affected by the social stimuli that percolate around us each day. Your behaviors are crucial to thousands of social justice movements and your thoughts and attitudes have tremendous consequences. Do not succumb to the norms of campus culture because it is convenient. Push the envelope whenever you see a possibility for change, question authority and regulations and prioritize your and your fellow community members’ well-being always. If nothing else, I beg you to imagine the impossible and convince yourself to view it as tomorrow’s reality.
Emily has loved hearing from you, her readers, this volume. Contact her any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.