With the release of the Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare‘s recommendations, many are left feeling dissatisfied with the efforts made to improve quality of life for students. Although the task force and its goal of assessing and improving resources for students is well-intended, the recommendations lack the sense of urgency and priority that we would like to see considering the gravity of the issue.
Without any dates or timeline for the proposals set forth, the report does not pressure the University to make the recommended changes.
Additionally the report lacks straightforward initiatives and tangible goals for the University. It does not set forward any proposals in regard to funding, staff or programming, forcing us to question if we can actually expect to see any real changes in the way the University handles issues of mental health and promotes the well-being of its students.
However, there is an important additional layer that has been left out of the conversation — the students themselves. Let’s face it: No task force, report or recommendations, no matter how immediate or in-depth, will be able to holistically address the issues students face in regard to mental health.
While the University absolutely must be accountable and responsible for addressing the issue, we too, as students, must be accountable to each other.
As a community, we have the power to reconstruct the way we view mental health on our campus. Issues of mental health do not always take the form of severe depression or other serious illnesses, but can be much smaller problems — problems that many feel, but few speak out about.
When it comes to educating yourself about mental health issues, it is easy to dismiss the subject entirely and tell yourself that it is not something you will ever have to face. But it’s not always about you.
We need to educate ourselves for the sake of others — for the friend who may knock on your door in the dead of night, in desperate need of help because they don’t know what to do. Learn about the numerous resources that Penn has available, so you can know where to direct others — your friends, hallmates, sisters, brothers, classmates — in their time of need. Take steps to be not just the friend that others feel comfortable approaching in troublesome times, but be the friend who knows what to do, the one who knows the numbers to call and the places to go to get help.
Mental health issues are not rarities; in fact, there’s a very good chance every single student will be affected, whether directly or indirectly, at some point during their time at Penn. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four people will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder in a given year. And most of us know at least four people. Many conditions — anxiety disorders, mood disorders and substance abuse — occur in late adolescence and early 20s, making the issue especially pertinent to our University.
Some critics of the task force’s report say that the report is centered on changing school culture, which is idealistic and unrealistic. Yes, we attend a very academically challenging university with a pre-professional atmosphere that drives intense competition. And yes, these spaces of competition may — and, let’s be honest, probably will — always exist. But this does not mean we cannot create safe spaces for each other. Not just in Counseling and Psychological Services or Student Health Service — but in our dorm rooms, hallways and classrooms — we should not feel afraid to have open dialogue.
We owe it to our friends and to ourselves to push our conversations past the superficialities of our next midterm or this weekend’s parties. We need to take the time to stop and sit down and ask each other openly about how we feel, about what is truly bothering us and what we can do to help. And most importantly, when someone opens up, we must be informed enough of all that Penn has to offer that we can actually do something to help.
We are all busy with a million different things, but our mental and emotional health — especially those of our friends — should be a priority.
We may still feel an incredible pressure to succeed, but we should not feel pressured to dismiss our feelings. In the light of recommendations that do fall short in offering concrete answers to our mental health challenges, students can take the charge. We can construct safe spaces in which to have open dialogue. And we can educate ourselves, if not for our own sake, then for the health and safety of our friends and classmates.
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