Last week was Mental Health Initiative Week, a yearly event designed by Student Council devoted to improving the mental health of students on campus. Events included therapy dogs, “I Care About Yous”, in-class relaxation activities, an alum panel, a movie night, and more. I loved MHI week sophomore year, and I loved it this year. It’s done so much for me and my IMSA family, whether it be teaching us healthy self-care techniques or making us feel less alone by bringing us all together. Overall, IMSA is better with an MHI week than it would be without one.
It’s clear that our Student Council puts a lot of effort into pulling this week together, and I commend the clever placement of this week just before early college applications are due. Unfortunately, though I look forward to this event each year, it is clear that one week is not enough. One week of events to improve mental health cannot possibly help with years of issues that sleep deprivation and constant stress put on our shoulders, and we know that. The issue is that the extent of our mental health awareness comes from one week during the first semester, and a few days second semester used to de-stress before finals.
What about the rest of the year?
Where were the therapy dogs when the sophomores started dropping during the first quarter? Where were the panels when the juniors didn’t know if they could trudge forward despite everything? Where was the meditation event when the seniors were struggling to write their Common App essays? Where will all of these events be in a week when we’re drowning in stress again?
Awareness is not equivalent to a solution.
It’s understood that Mental Health Initiative Week is a campaign to raise awareness on campus. The issue is that as soon as the week concludes, the awareness disappears, and the conversations about stress, anxiety, and depression turn back into casual, negative hallway talk. Furthermore, many students are not even able to attend for the most obvious reason an IMSA student can possibly muster up: homework. I find it troubling that a week which is supposed to help us get through our stress has to be put on hold by one of our prime stressors.
StudCo never intended for it to be a solution, but if MHI Week is not our solution, it’s our duty to find one. IMSA needs to become a happier place before we can truly say we’re advancing the human condition. And perhaps we’re on that path. According to 1501 Hall Senator Radeesha Jayewickreme (’18), “[Student Council] is trying to start more mental health related projects to actually improve things on campus for students struggling with their mental health.” But IMSA as a whole needs to reevaluate its stance on mental health. What needs to happen before our school takes action? Student Council can’t do everything that we, as a student body, need.
After this week ended, I knew how to take a stress mod, I had a few notes from friends, I learned that most students at IMSA have experienced my problems at some point, and I had a new profile picture to show my support. Sure, some students might walk away with more, but the scary fact is, some students have walked away with less.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. It’s time we stop pretending that teenagers can handle this alone, and it’s time we stop pretending that MHI week is enough. Students, you have the opportunity to continue the initiative: keep talking. Student Council, I hope to see follow up events in the coming months. Administration, all eyes are on you to initiate the process to solve this problem. We’ll be waiting.