I suppose I should be grateful that the dialogue on campus has changed.
I suppose I should be grateful that, unlike 19-year-old me sitting in a hospital full of shame, Penn students have a better chance to be heard and get the care they need when it comes to mental health. Students are speaking out and trying to help.
When I was on medical leave during the 2013-14 school year, I heard story after story about peers — one who I knew — committing suicide. I was angry that it took the loss of such beautiful students for people to realize that this was a problem running amuck under our noses.
But quite frankly, I’ve had enough with the way this conversation has turned out. I didn’t want it to be a topic people discussed just because it suddenly became the relevant thing to do. Now I find myself rolling my eyes whenever someone brings it up.
Writing my opinion column last year was cathartic and showed me that I was not alone. But our mental health discussions on campus consistently reek of privilege. So common is the discourse about how Penn invites mental issues by virtue of its culture, that we forget what it is we are really talking about.
Mental illness is not something that is purely brought on by a stressful course or competitive peers. Your classmates who have been struggling with illness may have been doing so since they were teenagers, matriculating in the midst of anxiety and other mood disorders. Your classmates may begin exhibiting schizophrenic symptoms not because of their workload, but because their genetic codes destined them to fall ill in their 20s.
Penn exacerbates but does not spontaneously cause illness. The more we perpetuate this myth, the more we will guarantee that the stigma will continue and that mental disorders will not be truly recognized for what they are.
Make no mistake, if Penn wants to offer various health services, then those services should do as much as they can with the available resources. However, mental illness has become a blame game for which no one takes responsibility.
My grandmother died believing my uncle was schizophrenic because someone drugged him, jealous of his intelligence and athletic ability. Illness always had to be someone or something else’s fault.
We have been brought up to believe, aided by our parents’ fears, that our universities should hold our hands. After all, why are we paying so much for tuition and tacked-on fees if we can’t get adequate service?
The time has come for us to be adults and help each other and to stop waiting for someone else to step in. But there is one thing I must ask of the Penn students who have never dealt firsthand with mental illness. Please don’t pretend to understand. There is a difference between stress and anxiety disorder, between sadness and clinical depression. And of the vast number of documented health issues, anxiety and depression are not the whole story, and it does everyone a disservice to make these disorders the poster children of mental illness.
I recognize that it is a privilege to even be able to sit at a school like Penn and ponder these problems. When I was hospitalized, a nurse told me repeatedly that I had to get discharged so I could go back to my studies. Penn meant a way out. I didn’t feel as hopeful for the other patients.
It was easy to remove myself from peers who were self-absorbed and competitive, to not feed into the mentality of insecure egos. Penn attracts a particular type of student, and these traits are only magnified in a group.
It was a lot harder to look in the mirror and feel justified. It was a lot harder to go to class when I was having panic attacks in the DRL bathroom and face my friends and family when I felt ashamed of how poor my coping skills were.
Despite feeling forever marked by the labels on my past therapy bills, I do not consider myself a victim. I simply consider myself a person who has had to overcome obstacles.
We all have obstacles. But if you want to change the places you call home, you need to really listen first.
KATIERA SORDJAN is a College senior and former DP columnist from New York, studying communication. Her email address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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