Hong: Let’s talk about more than negative aspects of mental health


Kathy Hong, Columnist

When you search “mental health” on Google Images, the top hits to come up are Lindsay Lohan and people who look seriously stressed out. There lies the problem.

Although we want to deny it, that’s a pretty good representation of how society views this issue. The associations that come with mental health are negative things like anxiety, stress, depression and — worst of all — suicide. Furthermore, the stereotypical images we have of mental health are people having mental breakdowns, panic attacks or just not being able to be competent or “normal.” It doesn’t help that this issue became such a hot topic on campus only after the interest was largely sparked by suicides.

As the issue of mental health gained momentum and fire, a lot of people started to work to have this become a public, open topic. They are telling people to speak up. They are telling people to be open. They are telling people to share. They are telling people to normalize the issue of mental health. They started campaigns. They started trends.

These are definitely steps in the right direction. They obviously were able to establish and maintain the student body’s attention on mental health.

But though I applaud their efforts, I’m not sure if they did a lot. Have these campaigns really done anything to change the stigma around the issue? I hate to say it, but the answer is no. Although these efforts may have gotten some people to speak up, the rest of the student body doesn’t know who these students are. They don’t know what these students are like in their daily lives. It makes it harder for the rest of the student body to connect and relate. It makes it harder for them to understand that these are your average Northwestern students who just happen to be dealing with some mental health issues. The campaigns also focused way too much on the negative aspects of mental health. Here’s the thing people forget: Mental health isn’t just about depression and anxiety. It’s also about feeling happy, feeling stable, feeling calm and feeling relaxed.

So start talking. From the small things to the big things, from the good things to the bad things. Talk about how you’re doing emotionally and mentally, whether it’s good or bad. Let people know that mental health isn’t just a bad thing. I know that talking can be hard. I know it can be incredibly difficult to share. It can be incredibly difficult to not worry about how someone’s going to react. But the only way we can really normalize the idea of “mental health” is to start talking about ourselves and how we’re doing. Not just about stress and anxiety, but about your happiness. Not just to a random therapist or on a Facebook photo to people who know nothing about you. Talk to your friends, your family, your fraternity brothers or sorority sisters. Talk to those who know you so people can start to realize mental health isn’t something just associated with depression and suicide and people like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. It’s associated with all of us.

So here’s me starting the conversation. My name is Kathy, and I am your average NU student. I am in a sorority and serve on the executive board of the Panhellenic Association. I have a work-study job and I write for The Daily. I also happen to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I have my good days and I have my bad days. But do I really seem so different from the students who don’t have mental health issues? Do my mental health issues make me incapable of being a “normal” student? Definitely doesn’t seem like it.

Kathy Hong is a SESP junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].