Although Grinnellians are known for being an accepting, holistic-minded bunch, certain aspects of our campus culture make it difficult to talk about and treat mental health issues effectively.
As an elite college, Grinnell takes students who are already high-achieving (and often high-strung) and throws them into an incredibly rigorous (and isolated) academic, extracurricular and social environment. Although this recipe for stress challenges virtually everyone to a degree, Grinnellians tend to hold on to the stubborn belief that they can and should “brave the pressure cooker” on their own.
Furthermore, as one student notes, “Given that there is such a normalized culture of stress, it can be difficult to recognize when your symptoms reach clinical levels…so people may put off getting treatment that could help them feel a lot better.” In other words, when claiming that you got three hours of sleep is not only considered normal but a point of pride, it creates a culture where students feel shameful about acknowledging and seeking treatment for mental health issues.
Interpersonal stigma is also prevalent. As one particularly astute second-year noted, “we tend to talk about each other rather than to each other when it comes to issues of mental health”. Even when such gossip reflects genuine concern, it effectively “others” the person in question, which only increases their sense of isolation. Although individual-focused initiatives such as President Kington’s #GrinWell Challenge are great steps towards increasing overall campus wellness, we need to make sure that we’re changing our communal dialogues in addition to our individual routines.
One way we could improve dialogue would be to include everyone in the conversation, regardless of whether or not they are currently struggling with mental illness. For example, we could organize a mandatory NSO event focusing on mental health. Doing so would normalize these discussions from day one. In addition, we should hold town halls and information sessions that address not only how to cope with mental illness oneself but how to support individuals among us who may be struggling. By educating all students, faculty and staff about the basics of mental illness and teaching strategies for being an effective ally, we can create a more informed and sensitive community.
Another issue is practical: how do we make mental health services more visible and accessible? Many students are unaware that these issues are so prevalent on campus, much less knowledgeable about where to turn if they need support. Even if students are aware of resources, however, accessibility to services has increasingly been compromised by rising costs. One student noted that the health insurance provided through Grinnell changed its policies this year, which has made it “much more difficult for a large number of students to afford consistent mental health care.” The shortage of mental health professionals on campus and in the community is also a major concern. Many local therapists are no longer accepting new patients, and the ones that do have openings are often booked out for weeks. When a struggling student calls for an appointment, it is not uncommon for them to have to wait nearly a month to be seen.
If Grinnell truly wishes to erase mental health stigma, we must demonstrate an ethical and practical commitment to addressing these illnesses with the same concern and quality of care as we would any other health-related issue.
We’ve made a lot of critiques, but there are nevertheless some excellent mental health resouces on campus! Reach out to Active Minds [gcminds], Queer Mental Health Group [qmhg], RLC’s, SA’s, or religious/spiritual leaders if you’re concerned that you or someone you know is strugging with mental health.