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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sound Off: Discussing mental health at Brandeis

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: (Audio/Video), Featured

Listen here: Sound Off: Discussing mental health at Brandeis

Almost exactly a year ago, the Brandeis community was sent into shock when Kat Sommers, a freshman, committed suicide. Her death not only left a hole in the Brandeis community, but it also brought up a rarely discussed topic: the mental health of college students. The Hoot sat down with two students, Becky Grossman ’12 and Chase Hiller ’12, to talk about that very issue. Their comments were edited by Tali Singer.

BECKY: I think there’s a huge amount of stigma just in the college population about mental illness and mental health. I grew up in a household where my mom was a psychiatrist and it was just kind of part of everyday conversation. To me that was natural but, I think for a lot of people, it’s not, and it’s kind of like really taboo for some people. And it’s also something that, maybe not necessarily taboo, but people just don’t know about it.

CHASE: Well my first year and sophomore year I was having a lot of mood issues. I take medication for anxiety, depression, and the medicine was helping, but I think that like the stress of school and some social anxiety issues that I was having, a lot of times I would withdraw into my own world instead of seeking like, friends.

BECKY: It’s a very personal issue, and a lot of the times when people have mental health issues or concerns, a lot of it has to with the fact that they’re ashamed. Part of depression is feeling lonely. If you’re lonely, you won’t feel like you have anyone to talk to about being depressed.

CHASE: I had friends, but I wouldn’t necessarily seek them out if I was depressed or in a bad mood. I think that’s a fairly common thing. It’s kind of counter-intuitive. The best thing that someone could probably do is to tell a friend, I’m not feeling well today emotionally, like would you mind just talking so I can get some of these feelings off my chest or whatever. Unfortunately, I guess kind of like human nature is to just withdraw.

BECKY: We try to kind of, our society to create this façade of competence and kind of hard work and being really on top of our game. And you can do that and still need help for mental health issues, because if you’re getting the help, you’re on top of what you’re dealing with. And I don’t think there’s any shame in that because I would say that most people do have issues. We’re not wired to react in the most adaptive way to everything.

BECKY: I know that in my four years here, there have been two suicides. And I just found out earlier today that there was one the year before I got here. So in five years, three suicides. For a school of that size, I don’t think that’s OK.

CHASE: For me I think it evoked some emotions and memories I had in high school. I wasn’t suicidal, like I wasn’t making plans to like kill myself. But like I was struggling with my sexuality and that kind of thing, and I also had depression and anxiety and I just I remember there was a long period where it was just hard to like even wake up in the morning and go to school. I thought to myself, I’d rather not be living right now. I’m glad that I sought help from a counselor and I made it to college, which is good. The incident that happened last year with Kat, it just got me thinking about that again. And it made me sad. There’s so many emotions wrapped up in that. That could have been me, like three or four years ago. It’s a tough issue to deal with.

BECKY: I know it does unfortunately happen all the time, and there are schools where it happens even more than that, but we’re a research institution that’s on the cutting edge of what we do. And part of that is medical science. So I think it’s inexcusable for us to be so on top of our knowledge and what we do here, and not be able to pick up on that and say that’s not OK and how are we going to fix that.

BECKY: And It’s really unfortunate because sometimes these things happen and they just go so under the radar and there really is no way to stop it, but at least for all of us to have know and have this toolkit is something we should be able to do. And I think that’s really important, just being really transparent and being out there and knowing this is what depression looks like, whether or not you have it, whether or not you can spot it, because at some point, you might experience some of those things, and you might not be depressed, but you might experience those things, or you might see a friend experience those things. And just to kind of have that in your mind, you’re more aware when it does happen to you or when it does happen to someone. Because it rings a bell of something you might have learned about. And that’s just, that in itself can be really helpful. If that rings a bell of what you learned about depression, maybe you can say something to a friend, and maybe that one little thing can help, so I think people need to have that in the back of their minds along with all the other things they do have.

BECKY: There’s a huge spectrum of places you can be as far your mental health goes, and it’s not all institutionalized and locked away for life. Most people who are suffering from psychological issues can still contribute just as much and be just as successful as the next person.