Thursday, May 5, 2011

Things Unseen

Last Wednesday was the farewell dinner for the participants in the Student Support Network training program. Participants from across Boston University came together on the lovely top floor of Student Village to share some food and fellowship, recognize the people who had taught and funded us, and to prepare to go forth as agents of empathy on Boston University's campus.

As part of the ending ceremonies, the BU Secret Project's video was shown to the Student Support Network trainees. For those of you reading that don't know, Boston University's Active Minds group launched the BU Secret project on March 17. Active Minds encouraged students to anonymously submit secrets on a provided postcard, which were then posted on bulletin boards and compiled into a video.

What was written on the postcards ranged from hilarious to heart-wrenching. Some students confessed to showering with their Brita, while others shared stories of neglect, fear, loneliness, anger, and pain. As I watched the short video, I realized that the people who had written these postcards are the people I eat in the dining hall with, the people sitting in my class, the people I pass by on the street without a second glance.

A huge stigma against mental illness exists in the United States, a stigma that makes treatable problems like depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders seem like insurmountable and uncontrollable character flaws. If people felt comfortable enough to share their difficulties with other, BU Secret wouldn't be a secret anymore, and more people would receive the help and support that they need in order to thrive and be happy.

Part of the Student Support Network's training is to show other students how to recognize the signs of depression. These signs are easy to notice in friends and people we live with. Withdrawal, change in habits, mood swings, changes in eating patterns, abusing drugs or alcohol, sleeping all the time or not sleeping at all, are the key ways to tell if someone is going through mental distress.

These unseen warning signs can lead to deadly consequences. Suicide is a very real and pressing problem on college campuses across the United States. Suicide is preventable. Being a friend, listening, and moving people towards ways to get help are key steps in suicide prevention.

I encourage everyone to watch the BU Secret video. If you see anyone that you feel may be in distress, talk to them. Recommend that they seek help. So many options exist. Marsh Chapel, Behavioral Medicine, Residence Life, support groups, and suicide hot lines are just some of these.

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