It's time for students to admit when we're not fine

This Mental Health Awareness Week, it's time to accept our vulnerability.

Nothing scares me more than my own vulnerability. It scares me not in the way that the snakes in the Life Science building or an episode of "American Horror Story" scare me, but in a more subtle and ultimately much more manipulating way. 

Vulnerability is an inevitable part of the human condition. It is unavoidable, but society demands that it be concealable. From a young age, we are taught to respond to questions of "How are you?" with, "I"m fine, thank you," or, "I'm good!" These responses are automatic, seemingly programmed by habit into our social psyche. They may not be true, but they are socially convenient. Such a response projects strength and resilience. 

These responses do not necessarily deny hardship, but they minimize its effect. Everything will work out. It's not that big of a deal. 

It's easy to assume that minimizing our problems and the negativity in our lives helps us develop a positive outlook and remain optimistic. As students and professionals, we are taught that it is crucial to project confidence and capability.

But at the same time, faking optimism is exhausting. And pretending you're OK when you're really not is dangerous. 

We spend so much of our lives saying "I'm fine" that it can seem impossible to do anything else. Coming to terms with our own vulnerability and sharing that vulnerability with someone else is terrifying. It's also critically important. If you're not okay, you shouldn't have to feel afraid to admit it. 

As the Editorial Board noted in their piece on Mental Health Awareness Week, mental health in campus communities is surrounded by a stigma that college students are "fragile, weak-minded and faint-of-heart." Many of us are affected by this stigma, but in our own ways we also perpetuate it. Afraid of projecting fragility or weakness, we brush aside our own problems. We move on, or at least pretend to. 

The glorification of busyness that creates such a pervasive culture of stress on college campuses is directly linked with the pressure to minimize our vulnerability. Admitting weakness is likened to admitting failure. 

Perhaps the only thing that makes us more uncomfortable than facing our own vulnerability is having to deal with someone else's. It's scary to hear someone tell you they're not fine. But what's worse than feeling weak is feeling weak and alone. We can't avoid our own vulnerability, but we can support each other. 

It's important to have meaningful dialogue on mental health. It's even more important that we incorporate our personal struggles with mental health into this greater dialogue.  Our individual experiences are legitimate, and ultimately unavoidable. 

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we need to remind ourselves that we have the responsibility to be honest with ourselves and to ask for help when we need it. When someone is not fine, we need to be a network of support rather than a source of pressure urging them to "get over it." It's time to end the stigma that surrounds mental healthcare and increase access to mental health resources like counseling. 

It's terrifying to do. But admitting when you are weak is the very thing that makes you strong. 

Related links:

We need to talk about campus stress culture

My brush with anxiety helped me better understand student depression


Reach the columnist at maarmst7@asu.edu or follow @MiaAArmstrong on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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