Keep it real: on honesty and mental health

By JOnathan McJunkin

Hi, how are you? This is probably the most perfunctory question we come across in our daily social lives. Whether it’s in a Facebook post from an old hometown friend you haven’t seen in a while or at dinner with your roommate, this seems to come up a couple times a day. And the response always tends to be the same: “I’m fine.” “I’m alright.” “It’s whatever.” Thus goes the typical exchange—on to more important stuff. Occasionally, we might throw in a joke about our hundreds of pages of reading, or whatever project we’re working on at the time that’s going to save the world by turning us into lifeless husks. How can we not joke about it? It’s college—it’s Macalester—we’re supposed to be busy, we’re supposed to be stressed, we’re supposed to be swamped. We wouldn’t have come here otherwise, right? We’re just having our normal college lives. We aren’t overwhelmed. We can handle it. They’re all just jokes—after a little back and forth kvetch it’s back to doing it all, not breaking a sweat, and all the while staying happy and well adjusted. Right? That’s how everyone else seems to be living anyway. Sometimes we really can do it all—those weird days when everything clicks and the road opens up for us. For all of us, though, there will be days—sometimes many days at a time, sometimes weeks, or months—when all you really want to say to that ordinary question is this: “You know what, to be honest, my life is kind of terrible right now. I’m just not feeling connected to anything. Most of the day I’m unhappy. I’m not handling it. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.” Most of the time we don’t say this, even if that’s how we really feel, even if it’s the honest truth. Why? In a time when a majority of college students report feeling depressed enough that it affects their daily lives at some point in the semester, we’re still determined to portray ourselves as invincible at the expense of being open with our friends. There’s also the larger problem our society has with vulnerability and sincerity. Even as the stigma attached to depression and other mental health disorders is beginning to lift, simple things like being sincerely and un-ironically emotional still make most of us feel queasy. My point is this: when you actually “come right out and say it” with your friends, presenting your emotions without any irony, or jokes, or comments like “I guess this is the way it is, oh Mac,” everything you’re saying can be traced directly back to you and be identified with you. The real you. And for a lot of us, the idea of putting our real selves out there to be seen by other people is one of the most terrifying things in the world. Though it might seem un-cool or uncomfortable at times, this kind of honesty with people who care about you is what strong friendship and healthy communication is made of. With the end of the year fast approaching, and winter just around the corner, it’s more important than ever that we take care of ourselves, and each other. Next time someone you’re comfortable with asks how it’s going, be honest—be as excited as you want about the good in your life, and as sad as you feel about the bad. You’ll probably be surprised by how helpful and kind, even understanding, your friends will be. Supportive friends are incredibly important, but sometimes they aren’t enough. If you feel hopeless and are worried about hurting yourself, don’t hesitate to contact a professional—they can sometimes listen in ways friends can’t. The Health and Wellness center offers ten free counseling sessions per year to all students, and they or an RA can set you up with one of several free counseling centers in the Twin Cities if you need more immediate help. If you ever feel like you’re in immediate danger of committing suicide, call either 1-800-273-8255 or 911 right away. There’s always hope, no matter how it seems. College, “the best years of our lives,” can also be some of the hardest. We need to be able to support each other, and the best way to do that is to be open and honest with ourselves and our friends about both the good and bad times of our lives. Macalester: this winter, be safe, spread the love, and keep it real.