Last Wednesday, Oct. 3 may have been "Mean Girls" Day, but today commemorates something much more pertinent to coming-of-age.
World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is observed annually on Oct. 10 and is organized by the World Health Organization (WHO). Each year, WHO focuses on a different element, streamlining the public’s attention to a single aspect of the broad subject of mental health. This year’s issue is particularly relevant to life at university — Young people and mental health in a changing world. While students attending Rutgers University are young, vibrant and dynamic, many struggle with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and addictions on a daily basis.
Acknowledging WMHD can help students reach out to their peers who may be grappling with mental illness, validate their struggles and encourage them to seek support and comfort from various organizations on campus, such as Rutgers Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS).
"Mental health care is essential, as we know mental health illness impacts a large number of people. Research has shown that the mind and body are connected. The more we are able to normalize the impact of mental illness and specifically treatment, the more successful we can be in terms of our academics, relationships with others and with ourselves. Research also shows if you can recognize stress as well as mental illness and effectively cope, there is a profound impact on creating a meaningful life and feeling connected to what we enjoy," said Dr. Annmarie Wacha-Montes, the assistant director for Community Based Counseling at CAPS.
CAPS believes that while WMHD is an important opportunity for society to recognize mental health issues, mental health should be incorporated in our daily conversations — the same way that they are at the Rutgers Counseling Centers.
There is a duality in the effects of this relatively recent recognition of mental illnesses as a pressing public health issue. On one hand, communities now more readily accept mental illnesses as real and valid, and their widespread normalization has led to an extensive variety of rehabilitation and therapy options available for people. The social stigmas and stereotypes that were once rampant in communities no longer persist as aggressively today. But, there is still work to be done in terms of society completely normalizing mental illnesses.
Aaron Scheiner, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, believes in discussing mental health more openly to normalize it. “A lot of people presume that sometimes we just feel sad or stressed, but these might actually be serious mental illnesses. It's important that we acknowledge them, instead of undermining or trivializing them. If we can understand mental health better and talk about it more, we can understand how it affects public issues more," Scheiner said.
On the other hand, the recent recognition of mental illnesses as a public health issue also means that more people are vulnerable to mental illnesses as the culture of communication and human interaction becomes more overwhelming and intertwined. Beyond hormones and emotions, increasingly competitive academic and professional environments, peer pressure, the fear of missing out and media-perpetuated body image issues are just some of the social forces that burden young people’s minds. Each of these forces is exacerbated by the omnipresence of digital culture and social media. Being the primary consumers of social media, young people become more susceptible to desperately trying to meet certain expectations of success and fulfillment, while also taking in a constant stream of information on today’s tumultuous political climate and the state of the world.
At Rutgers, CAPS does its best to make sure that students who deal with mental illness can access their services anytime and anywhere. Their website has resources, such as meditation exercises, self-help apps and emergency contacts for office hours and after-hours care.
“I believe that having someone to talk to in confidence and without worrying about being judged should be made commonly available to everyone. If all of us could easily walk into a clinic that deals with mental health like how we walk into a Starbucks, I believe that life would be more satisfying," said Fuping Yang, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. After accompanying a distressed friend earlier this year to a CAPS appointment, Yang was pleasantly surprised to see how much a therapist there cleared her friend’s thoughts.
Apart from CAPS, students’ best resource for working toward achieving a greater level of mental fitness, which is closely connected to physical fitness, would be the Recreation Centers. Along with a multitude of yoga and exercise classes across all four campuses, the Recreation Centers also host mindfulness meditation workshops in partnership with CAPS, that aim to help overcome stress and teach students self-help methods. According to CAPS, mindfulness meditation is a both a practice and state of mind. Today's class will take place at noon at the Student Activities Center located on the College Avenue campus and will be hosted by Dr. Siobhan Gibbons, a psychologist at CAPS.
“Mindfulness meditation helps us cope with anxiety and depression by teaching us how to be compassionate, non-judgmental observers of our thoughts and emotions. And as a result, we become less upset about and reactive to the ups and downs of our own lives,” Dr. Gibbons said.
Other simple but substantial ways to practice self-love and wellness would be to get involved on campus and do what you love. Attending events — concerts, coffeehouses, comedy shows and even club meetings — that interest you, can help provide you with a stronger sense of work-life balance. Additionally, creative catharsis through indulging yourself in music, art, dance, cooking or baking, can prove to be an excellent way to get offline and get better in touch with yourself and others. Taking time for yourself is key to dealing with depression and anxiety, and recovering from emotional trauma, addictions and eating disorders.
Gillian Dauer, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, considers engaging with supportive, positive people the most effective way to combat mental illness and be truly happy. “The more we openly talk about our problems, the less alone we feel in battling those problems," Dauer said.