Let’s just get this out in the open: I have depression. I’ve had it since I was a teenager, and though I mostly cope with it, it gets away from me sometimes. I have relapses, if you will, that majorly suck. But I write enough about that on my own blog, so I won’t bore you with more of the details here.
The reason I share this is because it’s core to my experience of the cultural reaction to mental illness among student affairs. When I admit this, there are varied responses – some of you will immediately feel the need to write me a note or “like” my post to let me know you support me, you identify with me, and/or you admire me (and these are always appreciated); others will silently identify with me but not feel comfortable “outing” themselves; some will silently support me; and some will probably feel uncomfortable with this admission (“is it really appropriate for her to share that?”).
To be honest, I feel that all of these are acceptable responses. No, some of them aren’t the most supportive, but considering the society we’ve all been raised in, I certainly can’t blame folks for responding negatively to confessions of this sort. And when I put information about myself like this out there, I expect nothing less (but always hope for something more).
But here’s the rub – aren’t we in the business of encouraging our students to seek help unashamedly when they need it? Don’t we try to promote a campus culture of open-mindedness and move our students away from blaming and shaming? How do we do this if we can’t even accept another student affairs professional’s confession of mental illness? Is it okay for students to struggle with mental illness but not ourselves?
I wish I had all the answers about how we can move towards a culture of open-mindedness among ourselves when it comes to mental illness. This is not something I can help – I inherited it, and I’m coping with it in whatever ways I can. Obviously, it’s easier to cope with when I can share it with others. But when will we someday have a culture on our campuses where it’s acceptable for me to call in depressed? It’s an illness – not a choice or a mood. Shouldn’t I have the ability to cope with it in the same way I deal with other illnesses? I hope that I’m doing my little part just by “outing” myself – teaching others about depression and what it feels like, allowing those who also struggle with it to know there are more of us out there. But we need more voices speaking up around this topic.
What is the culture towards mental illness on your campus? How does the treatment or perceived treatment of professionals differ from that of students? How do we get to a culture of acceptance and support for mental illness in our profession?