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Closson: Let’s reframe mental health to acknowledge core issues, stop ‘pushing through’

Troy Closson, Opinion Editor

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It’s week five, but I feel like by now, we should be at reading week. For a lot of this quarter, I’ve felt like I’m running on empty — and that’s worrying.

During my first year at Northwestern, I felt the exact same way around this time of year. Coming from a high school where mental health was never talked about or addressed, however, I wasn’t able to fully articulate or process how I was feeling during Winter Quarter. So rather than deal with anything, I stayed overwhelmed, stressed and burnt out. Part of me knew just dropping a class or taking time off from different student groups would help, but I didn’t do either. I thought I could just push through and be fine — like I did in high school and like I saw everyone else doing on campus. But by the end of the quarter, I was really struggling.

I’ve tried to make sure I don’t fall into the same pattern this quarter. But over time, I’ve also realized that this phenomenon doesn’t just apply to me: Northwestern’s culture surrounding personal and mental health is one in which students often choose, and are even encouraged, to always keep pushing through without taking a breath.

Last week, for example, a friend of mine was talking about how even though she was sick, she still felt like she had to attend class because she was worried about her professor’s attendance policies. And I’ve felt the same way in the past, too. Even beyond the fact that faculty shouldn’t require students to deprioritize their own wellbeing, any environment where students consider doing so in the first place needs to change.

Obviously, it’s important that we prioritize everything that comes with being students. I’m not saying anyone should just abandon all their responsibilities or commitments, but it’s an issue when these things become more important than students’ own health and wellbeing.

On campus, so many people seem to think they can “just push through” without actually addressing or confronting what’s going on. But sometimes it’s essential to step back from everything else going on and work to process what you’re feeling or check in with yourself. Even though it seems like everyone else is able to, realizing that you can’t do everything is crucial.

Compared to my high school, dialogues surrounding mental health are much more prevalent on campus. But these conversations often operate on a broad level; it’s important to also turn the focus directly on ourselves and stop acting like the issues and struggles that we have aren’t actually problems that need to be addressed. The culture surrounding mental health throughout NU needs to be reframed — constant stress isn’t normal and pulling all-nighters shouldn’t become a competition. I’m not trying to act like I don’t struggle with falling into this mindset myself, but it’s important to acknowledge when I do and understand that it’s harmful.

I couldn’t be happier that we’re already halfway done with Winter Quarter, but it’s also been important for me to understand that just trying to constantly survive until Reading Period isn’t healthy — and other students should as well. On campus, mental health resources aren’t always easily accessible, and reaching out to anyone for help can be challenging. But that doesn’t mean there’s no value in working with friends to process what you’re dealing with, seeking help from outside counseling services or reaching out to advisers to create a plan to get back on track. Moving forward, it’s important to work to change Northwestern’s culture surrounding mental health to stress the importance of prioritizing it above everything else — and doing so throughout the entire quarter, not just with self-care programming during Reading Period and Finals Week.

Troy Closson is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at troyclosson@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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