How Are We, Really?

Talking about mental health is often like walking on
eggshells: tentatively, nervously, painfully. Nobody wants to admit that theirs
isn’t as good as it could be; nobody wants to ask others the questions that
really need to be asked. “Seeking help” is put in scare quotes because it
really just means talking to somebody whom you don’t know in any context other
than a counseling relationship, when “help” should just mean telling
someone that you aren’t stoked about the way things are going, and telling them
as soon as you realize it.

As that archaic adage goes, “a stitch in time saves nine.” That
can be true when dealing with issues like depression, grief, and any sense of
general helplessness, isolation, or malaise. Acknowledging the problem while it
is still small prevents it from growing insidiously.

The problem is nobody wants to acknowledge that the problem
exists. Admitting that we are not happy is stigmatized—it feels like
admitting that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Others have
already written about the specific problem of feeling unhappy in the midst
of the “happiest college(s) on earth,” but even without the Disneyland
hyperbole, it is hard for us to admit that we have problems at all.

When we do feel compelled to talk about it or seek help, we
are often triggered by a spontaneous moment of clarity or overwhelming grief
that needs to be harnessed while we still have the willpower to do so. Appointment-scheduling issues often make that difficult, growing the rift between seeking help and getting it. Any
delay in getting help after admitting vulnerability amplifies the feelings of
isolation associated with most mental health issues. Give most people a week or two to
think about it and they may talk themselves out of going to that

It shouldn’t have to be this way. The nature of mental
health is that every search for conversation is an emergency, regardless of
anticipated outcomes. It should not take a catastrophic breakdown to gain
immediate access to sympathetic ears or council. Any time someone is
willing to admit to having the feeling of vulnerability that is implacable
unhappiness or to revisiting some repressed trauma, it should be treated as
the ultimate gift and display of trust. I know that I am most honored when a
sincere “How are you?” is returned with something other than the stock answer
of “Good.”

Some people claim that answer, that “good” is the status quo, is the most common lie that
human beings tell. This deepens the schismatic sense that those of us who are
hurting or have hurt are alone. Being forced to smile and lie often makes the
pain way worse. And yet, without immediate access to a safe space, we often
feel compelled to do just that. Whether it is telling a friend or being able to
walk into the office of professional helpers like Monsour, it should never

I can’t attest to the workings of the structured offerings
at the 5Cs, but information from friends and anonymous surveys seems to imply
that things could be better—and they always can be. It starts with being open
about how we feel. If someone asks how you are doing, be honest. Ask someone else in a way that
implies that you genuinely want to know. There is nothing wrong with feeling
sad, even without a specific reason. The immediate camaraderie felt between two
people who feel or have felt anything other than “good” is an unspeakable

The same goes for professional help, which is less about
realizing that you are not alone but more about methodically accessing the
possible root (or roots) of problems. This care should be available during all
reasonable business hours with little to no wait and no limitations. I know
this is a tall order for a small-ish health center, but it is of utmost
importance. At a place with such taxing academic and personal demands, the need for some sort of support is immense.

We shouldn’t have to get to the point of full-on emotional
crisis. If we shift our culture toward honesty,
nobody will feel so alone among others who are working equally hard to put up
the hyperbolically happy facade that is imparted to everyone inside the
Bubble. That honesty creates friendships and breeds true happiness, the type
that is not bought with good weather or free beer. If we feel more OK with how
we feel, seeking help or an impartial ear will seem far less dramatic than it
does now.

There is really no price too high for happiness. I hope to
see the community and the consortium make efforts to embrace the search for wholehearted
happiness, in all of its iterations.

John Montesi CM ’14 is a literature major from Fort Worth, Texas.

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