On Mental Health, Come Out of the Woodwork
by Maeve Wall | Northwestern University
“We love you all, and we want you all here.” This is the statement my professor left my class with yesterday as we gathered in memory of one of our classmates, Alyssa Weaver, who died last week.
I didn’t know Alyssa personally. Though we were in the same academic program here at Northwestern University, our lives never crossed paths. Or rather, I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities I had that would have allowed them to. Yet I know from the moving testaments of those who knew her that she was compassionate, intelligent and truly special –a young woman who could light up a room, and one I wish that I had known.
It was reported the day after her death that Alyssa committed suicide.
This information, accepted by Alyssa’s mother who told Northwestern that Alyssa was “in a dark place,” came as a shock to her friends, family and, it seems, anyone who came in contact with Alyssa and her beautiful smile. In addition to heightening the grief of her passing, Alyssa’s silent struggle should serve as a wake-up call to all of us.
I see a therapist. In response to the hectic-ness that is my senior year of college, I decided to start taking a bus to an office building a few miles from campus and talk about my feelings for an hour to a woman with a clipboard every other Friday at 5:00 p.m. Sometimes we meditate together. Sometimes I cry and she waits. Sometimes I just complain about practically nothing for a while to someone who seems happy to listen. Regardless, though I don’t have any pressing mental health needs and have fortunately never personally struggled with any mental health issues, I leave each session feeling healthier, happier and more in control.
Why then, do I hesitate to tell anyone about my sessions, often brushing them off as an “appointment” and even once as a “doctor’s visit?” What makes anxiety more embarrassing than tonsillitis?
We should all work towards being better, more thoughtful friends who take the time to reach out to those around us who may be suffering from mental illness. Yet what is equally important, especially for people like Alyssa- whose mental health issues were buried deep under her outgoing personality, sense of humor and infectious grin- is the act of making our society one in which mental health is discussed.
“If you know someone who is struggling, or if you yourself are (struggling), tell someone,” my professor told us. “Come out of the woodwork.”
It’s time that we all came out of the woodwork. We need to begin talking about our experiences with mental illness — whether they revolve around us or a loved one, are in the past or the present, are serious or, like mine, rather self-serving. In opening ourselves up to the reality of mental health issues and their unspoken prevalence in our lives, we can change the stigmas often attached to them. In so doing, we can create a space where people feel more comfortable sharing their struggles, encourage them to do so, and potentially save lives.Maeve Wall is a senior English major at Northwestern University also studying in the Brady Scholar Program for Ethics and Civic Life. She is the former Vice President of Membership of her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha and has been involved with various other activities such as Alternative Student Breaks. She will be working as a Teach For America Corps Member in New York City this fall.