May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. For many students on campus, the words ‘mental health’ carry a heavy weight. Some students may personally be affected by mental illness or may know someone in their close circle of friends or family that has struggled with mental illness. Mental illness can take a myriad of forms. Although there are accepted symptoms for each illness, they can have differing levels of prominence from person to person. It is important to note that the topic of mental illness cannot be covered in one short article and this article is not attempting that. Rather, this article serves to raise awareness of mental health on campus and to provide resources for conversations surrounding mental illness.
Lawrence students often engage in conversations that revolve around the amount of work that people have to do, something dubbed the ‘Stress Olympics.’ These conversations can devolve from competing about work levels to competing about self-care levels, with whomever has the least amount of sleep and food ultimately winning. Of course, these conversations are lose-lose: one person walks away thinking that they are not doing enough, and the other has not gotten a decent night of sleep in days. Either way, a culture of stretching oneself too thin is perpetuated.
Richard Jazdzewski, the Associate Dean of Students for Health and Wellness, explained that for Lawrence students, the most important thing someone can do in these situations is to lend a listening ear. “I would suggest that people respond with empathy and compassion,” Jazdzewski said. “I think it’s really easy on our campus to feel the pressure to join [those conversations] and say yes, I hear that you’re stressed and I, too, am stressed. To be supportive, you should not let your own business one-up anybody else.”
Jazdzewski’s tips were echoed by sophomore Jessica Robyns and freshman Susie Francy, who are members of the Lawrence University Alliance for Psychological Health (LUAPH). Robyns stated, “I think Lawrence has some problems because we are such a rigorous school. There’s sort of this culture of needing to be busy all the time, and if you’re busy all the time, that means you’re successful. One of the things APH has been trying to focus on is changing the culture around that and promoting more of a culture of self-care.”
Self-care is the process of putting oneself first. This process can consist of doing simple things that may become exceedingly difficult when under an immense amount of stress or when mentally ill, such as showering regularly. Self-care can also take the form of talking with friends, going on a walk or taking a short nap.
“Give yourself permission to take care of yourself,” Jazdzewski continued. “Have balance in your schedule. It’s often that people feel like they don’t have time to do that, and I’ll talk to students about how much time they’re doing their work, and how effectively they are in doing that work. For example, most students would tend to agree that after they work out, they have more energy and a positive approach to what’s going on.”
After a basis of self-care is achieved, students can take care of one another in full affect. In addition to listening to fellow students when they are stressed, Jazdzewski provided some warning signs to look out for in our friends and acquaintances.
“When we’re thinking about mental health issues,” he said, “I really encourage students to look out for changes in behaviors. It can go in either direction: someone might have been isolated for a long time and suddenly they’re very outgoing, or someone who might have been very focused on self-care is no longer, or someone who hasn’t been drinking much in the past is drinking a lot more. Tell them, ‘Hey, here’s what I’m seeing, and I’m worried about you.’ It’s important to just engage in those conversations.”
Awareness of mental health and self-care is especially prevalent as the term is ending and schoolwork becomes more of a stressor than it was previously. Take care of yourself, take care of your friends.