Transcending Taboos

I was six years old when I first felt the repercussions of mental health rattle my world. In a manic depressive episode triggered by a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), a common antidepressant medication, my mother was struggling with Bipolar 3. The episode of depression inhibited her so greatly that she was forced to leave her job to attend an outpatient program offered by a local mental health institution. Too young to fully comprehend what was happening, I did not grasp the severity of the situation; however, through experience, I did learn how to overcome the stigma surrounding mental health. As I matured, I grew more and more cognizant of my mother’s situation — as well as the steps my family took to support her. Every morning, my father would get up early to ensure that my mother took her medicine. And I found myself taking on more responsibility too, anything I could to help her. I discovered that the more I did, the better our family was able to exist happily. Together, my family has learned how to grow and live beyond the mental health episodes that have recurred throughout our lives. We have learned a lot about each other, and realized that these experiences, which often feel very negative at the time, can ultimately be truly positive, strengthening our love and understanding for each other. Together, we learned that the stigma surrounding mental health was in fact totally unjustified. Even now, though, I worry this article crosses some sort of line; before writing, I called my mother to ask if it was okay for me to share our story with the Andover community. Now a mental health worker at the same institution at which she was once an outpatient, she reminded me to not be afraid of the stigma surrounding mental health. She encouraged me to share our story. As a community, we must support, love, respect and strive always to understand each other. Only then can we transcend the taboo like my family has. More importantly, Andover itself has to evolve and rise to meet the mental health challenges on campus. People in our community need support, and we need to learn how to provide it immediately. This is our opportunity to learn how to create a community that does not fear stigmas. The 2014 “State of the Academy” survey states that 75.7 percent of Andover students feel that there is a stigma on campus tainting the process of asking for counseling. In a community so focused on achieving perfection, the concept of admitting that one needs help in any facet of one’s life, especially mental health, is staggering. As mental health issues across campus seem to be emerging almost epidemically, it is important to realize that these problems are probably not new. Mental health has been one of the many elephants in the room at Andover, but now it is ready to show its face. It is time for us, as a community, to fight the idea of mental health as a taboo subject and encourage one another to reach out for the help that we need.