Whenever I think of Andover, my memories tend to be positive. I think of early mornings at America House and McDonalds; 3 a.m. photo shoots and “America’s Next Top Model”; skipping class to lawn or binge-watch “House of Cards”; the excessive amount of takeout I ate and television I watched in the Stimson common room; social justice and Shakira; Indian food and movies starring British men.
These are the things I think about first — which is really a horrible habit. Because while those were some of the best moments of my life, the vast majority of my Andover experience was overwhelmingly negative. Whenever I think of Andover, I should first think of the crushing isolation and negative atmosphere; the days spent sleeping in Isham because I couldn’t handle doing things and seeing people; the constant barrage of rude and offensive comments; waking up one morning with the realization that I hated almost everyone around me; discovering one morning that the excited and passionate girl who came to Andover in the fall of 2011 was now completely indifferent towards the rest of her life.
Come to think of it, whenever I think of Andover, I should probably first think of my suicide attempt and of packing up my boxes to leave for good.
Understand that, despite encouragement from some of my friends, I never intended to write anything on the subject of mental health for _The Phillipian_. But after seeing the online response to Taryn Gangi’s ’16 article, “Stepping Out of the Shadows,” I felt that certain issues needed to be addressed.
First let me say that Gangi’s article was both extraordinarily brave and extremely important in starting a long-overdue discussion on mental health at Andover. One need only look at the number of people who shared the article on Facebook to see what a pervasive problem depression is. Nevertheless, I found some of the responses to the article to be troubling. Many people encouraged students with depression to find friends or faculty to confide in, to seek help, to find a way to push through the pain and the apathy and continue their Andover education. I didn’t see anyone telling students that it was okay to leave.
You see, despite the fact that Andover can be a thoroughly miserable place, one of the greatest fears for many students with mental health issues is the possibility of leaving. The lack of clear-cut policies for students who wish to spend time in an inpatient treatment facility or who have severe mental health problems stop many of them from reaching out for the help they need. But why are we so afraid of leaving? Is it for the diploma, for the name, for the prestige? Because if this is the case I can tell you right now that it is okay to leave. I repeat, it is okay to leave. It is okay to leave, to never receive your Andover diploma, to go home, to get help, to be happy. Not wanting to “waste” all the time, effort and misery you have already spent on this school is a horrible excuse to stay, but sadly an extremely common one.
We’re constantly reminded to turn to our friends in tough times, told that Graham House is an invaluable resource, but no one ever told me that it was okay to realize that enough was enough, and to decide that it was time to go home. So I wrote this article to remind struggling students of that very real and very helpful option. I know that I am coming from a place of privilege; I have a stable and loving family and a good school that I can afford to attend in my area. Even so, I stand by the assertion that nothing, not even the prestigious title of “Andover graduate,” is worth your mental health and safety. It’s just not.
I’m not going to deny that leaving Andover wasn’t hard. I cried once after my suicide attempt and that was when my dad told me that I had been placed on a yearlong medical leave of absence and would not be able to return for the 2014-2015 school year. I miss my friends, my teachers, my classes and my dorm. Most of all, I miss the incredible passion people at Andover possess. Passion for teaching, for learning, for social justice, for sports teams, for discussion and debate, for their television shows, for each other. I miss all these things all the time, but I never regret leaving. Because I am healthy now, and every day I’m closer to being happy again. And that is something that I know, at Andover, I would never have been able to do.
_Emily Graue is a 12th grader at The Hockaday School. She attended Andover from Fall 2011 to Spring 2014._