Category Archives: mental wellness

Colleges forcing suicidal students to leave campus — wrong on so many levels

I came across this article in the New Yorker this afternoon, and it really made me mad. It seems that many colleges force suicidal students to leave campus and seek treatment if they do not do so voluntarily. I think this is bone-headed, but first, let me share my own personal reasons why I feel that way.

I am a new Harvard alumnus. I had so many positive experiences there. But I was also, at times, suicidal. Harvard is famous for the pressure it puts on students. There were times when I thrived on that pressure. And there were times when I just couldn’t take it. I never expected or wanted Harvard to lower its standards just for me. They didn’t. What they DID do was offer me the opportunity to take a VOLUNTARY leave to get help. They made it very clear that I was still considered a student, and that I would be welcomed back when I was ready to come back. They even gave me time extensions so I could finish my degree program. I still faced all of Harvard’s rigors. I just didn’t face them as quickly as students who don’t have mental illnesses.

If Harvard officials had FORCED me to leave, that almost certainly would have put me over the edge. It surely would have given me another excuse to consider myself a failure. I am very grateful that Harvard found a way to be accommodating without bending its academic standards.

Forcing suicidal students to leave campus does more than put scarlet letters on their heads. It may also stop students from seeking help in the first place. Getting help for mental illness is tough enough as it is. Would you seek help if you knew there was a possibility that you’d be forced to leave? I think not.

Colleges and universities should have the resources to handle mentally ill students. And if they don’t have those resources, they should put top priority on getting them. Treating mentally ill students as though they’ve done something wrong? That is NOT the answer.

Read the New Yorker article here.

Words I live by


New hotline aims to help transgender people at risk of suicide

According to reports, almost half of people who are transgender will at least attempt suicide during their lifetimes. Yet many times, when they call suicide hotlines, they run in to people who are unfamiliar with what it even means to be transgender.

That’s why a hotline designed especially for the trans community is such a great idea. It was founded by a trans woman who has contemplated suicide herself, so she knows the territory.

Read the Time article about the hotline here.

The phone number is 877-565-8860. I am adding it to my resource list.

Thanksgiving 2014: a success!

I just got back from Thanksgiving dinner with my cousins. And I’m happy to report that I had a very good time.

As I’ve said before, I have social anxiety disorder, and it often creeps up even when I’m around people I know and love. I planned ahead of time in the sense that I waited to leave my apartment until after it was time to take my anxiety meds. It made me a little late for dinner. But honestly, I didn’t care. I wanted to make sure my meds kicked in and gave me a little “cushion.”

Well, everyone was warm and welcoming. Dinner was delicious, and the table conversation steered mercifully clear of anything that could be remotely controversial. Cousin Alec told colorful stories about his new job on a Texas oil rig. (It seems like, of all his co-workers, he’s the only one who hasn’t spent time in prison.) Another guest who grew up on a 1922310_10152878137069570_424167287687083505_nfarm told us of what it was like to grow up castrating male cows. (She said it’s necessary because male cows often become “real mean” otherwise. I felt bad for the cows — all the while digging in to my turkey.) The whole time, I felt
“in the moment” and engaged in conversation. When I’m in the moment, I can notice things like the place mat that my Cousin Michelle created especially for this dinner, which even included a funny poem.

My mental state came up only once. When we were alone in the kitchen, Cousin Ira asked how I was feeling. I told him I had good days and bad days. He quickly changed the subject, but a) at least me asked me, and b) at least I was honest with my answer.

As I was about to leave, Michelle reminded me of our next family tradition. Next month, we’re going to see “It’s A Wonderful Life” when the Brattle theater here in Cambridge plays it on the big screen. Michelle said, “I can’t wait to do this again this year with you — and EVERY YEAR.” She ended that sentence with maximum urgency. Without anything else being said, I knew why. Even though they have a hard time talking about it, my family knows what I’ve been through this year. I told Michelle, “Yes, we WILL see “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year.”

With hope and prayers — not to mention a lot of work on my part — we will look forward to Jimmy Stewart running like a maniac through Bedford Falls for many years to come.

Winston Churchill and his “black dog”

Until recently, I never heard of depression referred to as “the black dog.” As I’ve learned more about my illness, I’ve realized how popular that metaphor is. But today I learned who made the reference famous. It was none other than winston-churchillWinston Churchill. This was a man with admitted bouts of depression, as well as a family history of mental illness.

I smiled when I discovered this. I mean, think about it. This guy defied Hitler, helped win World War II, became Prime Minister of England, wrote tons of books, and became one of the most widely quoted men of the 20th Century. And he had depression.

I’m glad I know this. The next time I run across someone who “can’t understand” why a smart professional such as myself can even have depression, I think I’ll tell them Mr. Churchill’s story. It’s not that I’d put myself in the same league as Churchill. Far from it. But people should know that even a man who accomplishes great things can still hear the ominous growl of the “black dog.”

Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” No doubt, he knew from experience.

Read more about Churchill’s depression here.

Johnny Cash sings about Nasty Dan

I remember watching this on Sesame Street when I was a kid. I loved it immediately — and not just because Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch have always been two of my favorites. Here’s what I still love about this: it teaches an important lesson about accepting people for what they are. Something tells me Dan was just called “nasty” by people who didn’t “get” him. He probably had some type of mental illness. But he lived his life as he was, and he even found happiness on his own terms.

This was one of the great things about Johnny Cash. He never judged anyone. He was all about giving a voice to people who were too often unheard. Ah, but enough analyzing for now. Just enjoy!


Hang in there this Thanskgiving

You know you’re in a depression/anxiety support group when, at the end, someone shouts:

“Hey, everyone, HANG IN THERE this Thanksgiving.”

Here’s someone who knows that dealing with all the friends and family can be, putting it diplomatically, a little trying. The doctor who leads our group said, “Wow. That’s actually a very accurate thing to say to a lot of people before Thanksgiving.”

We all agreed to hang in there. And we left knowing that we’ll all probably have a lot to say at our next session after Thanksgiving.

So, to my friends out there in the blogosphere — HANG IN THERE this Thanksgiving!

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