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Listen and learn about mental health

On September 10, a group of students gathered in front of the Chapel to increase awareness of World Suicide Prevention Day and mental health issues. An organizer of the gathering has also been involved in starting Duke’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Over the past several years, campaigns to encourage discussion of mental health and illness have worked through Mental Health Awareness Month and groups like Peer For You. They hope to remove stigma from conversations about mental health and to provide resources and support for students.

When students think of mental health resources, Counseling and Psychological Services comes to mind first. Unfortunately, common misconceptions about CAPS that we and others have sought to dispel deter students from going to talk to CAPS. With 30 percent of undergraduates going to CAPS over the course of four years, many students are in communities where CAPS and support options are being in fact encouraged in times of need. Even for these students, however, and especially for those who never go but need to, the journey to the first appointment can be problematic. Between the initial phone call, the literal steps to talk to CAPS and the stigmas surrounding mental health, there are deterrents for students even as CAPS works to address these issues.

A related issue is that Duke’s medical leave policy, which we have taken issue with in the past, still contains serious flaws. It seems that at the expense of providing the best experience possible for students, the liability minimization achieved by requiring two semesters of leave and then a readmission process frequently dissuades students who would benefit from a medical leave from taking one. The impersonal, blanket nature of this policy seems a gross mismatch to the personal, individual nature of mental health issues.

And to the students who find themselves unaffected by any serious mental health issues, we urge you to consider your role in helping those who are. This primarily means listening attentively to your peers and being the friend or acquaintance who reaches out to resources with them. Though what each person needs varies, it can often do more harm than good to try to single-handedly “solve” someone else’s problems. Simply being willing to listen and offering simple but sensible advice is important in being supportive, and it also does well to recall that we are not medical professionals. Shouldering alone someone else’s issues without the skills to treat them can in some cases leave supporters compounding issues with their own anxieties, to the detriment of both parties.

At Duke, it can be hard to talk about mental health. From the very beginning, with first-year Convocation introducing our most outstanding classmates, we find ourselves in a pressure-filled environment to not only succeed but to be great. The pressure is a natural byproduct of our circumstances but one that we can learn to mitigate. The pressures are felt even more acutely as different issues come and go for different groups like female students, students of color, queer students and others who have to deal with those aspects of their identity make it even more challenging to address mental health. We encourage all members of the Duke community to continue having conversations about mental health, and to continue to work to make our campus a place where students can find resources and support to help take care of themselves. In tomorrow’s editorial, we will further explore our campus as the backdrop of our mental health and wellbeing.

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