Like many Penn students, my struggles with mental health haven’t always been immediately recognizable or visible. Everyone’s anxieties manifest in different ways. It can be easy to get angry at those who don’t understand why you’d prefer to walk the twenty blocks to Rittenhouse Square, as opposed to taking an Uber (because Ubers makes you incredibly nervous for a reason you don’t know how to fully articulate). The baggage that we lug around with us from classes, to work, and back home again aren’t visibly stuffed like the ones holding our textbooks and laptops. They’re invisible to many, only outlines to a few.
Perhaps those who you decide to trust and confide in can see the full extent of your baggage, and even carry some of its weight for you when you ask. But it is dangerous for friends, family members, and trusted authority figures to claim that they support you when they do not have the capacity to enact this proposed support. We all need to have an understanding of our capacity to be there for our friends and those whom we love. But you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about not being able to always extend a helping hand.
Growing up, my twin sister and I depended on each other a lot. Throughout family troubles, individual struggles with our respective mental health issues, and the stress of all other things, we each tried our best to be a shoulder for the other to lean on. When we were 13 years old and coping with the loss of multiple family members, our single mother's cancer diagnosis, and her ensuing treatment, this kind of mutual support was necessary, albeit draining. It is difficult to express boundaries to someone who so desperately needs you, especially when you’re young and still growing into your own empathetic capacities. Now, as young adults living on different coasts, we still go through family struggles, we still have our own mental health crises, and we still need each other.
But we should understand how much of ourselves we can give to each other at different times. It is important to let those around you know how and when you’re willing to help them. And if you’ve offered that help and support, it is equally important to stay true your word.
As much as I want to offer my sister a tissue every time she cries, help my old roommate through every bump in his relationship, and listen to every coworker going through a stressful time, the reality of the situation is that I can’t do that for the rest of my life, especially not when my eyes are clouded with problems of my own. We are all fumbling through the difficulties of growth, balancing mental health and existence, and caring about those around us attempting the same feats. To offer support and not provide it can be as damaging to someone struggling with their mental health as never having offered the support at all.
Negotiating how much you can feasibly offer someone of yourself while also devoting enough of your time to yourself is tricky, and I don’t profess there to be one correct happy medium. I do, however, advocate for exploring your personal compass of sensitivity and helping as much as you can when you’ve promised to do so, while not overextending yourself.
The HELP Line: 215-898-HELP
Counseling and Psychological Services: 215-898-7021 (active 24/7)
Student Health Service: 215-746-3535
Office of the Vice Provost for University Life: 215-898-6081
University Chaplain’s Office: 215-898-8456
- 215-573-2727 (every day from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.)
- 215-515-7332 (texting service available 24/7)
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is email@example.com