Defining Safe: Kellogg student shares story of mental health, addiction

Andrea Michelson, Digital Managing Editor

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ANDREA MICHELSON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Andrea Michelson. Thanks for tuning in. You’re listening to the fifth episode of Defining Safe. May is Mental Health Month, so I decided to ask students who have struggled with mental health about where they feel safe on campus.

CONNOR PERA: I feel like the people that I’ve met here, just being able to be open with them about where I’m at, or also on the same token, being a resource for other people who are going through challenges. I think that whole social component of social support and having people to go to is just so critical for fostering a sense of not being alone. I think for me, that was one of the hardest challenges.

MICHELSON: This is Connor Pera, a Kellogg student who told me about resources he’s found at Northwestern. Pera struggles with depression and anxiety and is also in recovery from a battle with addiction. He said one of his first priorities when he came to Northwestern was finding a 12-step program for addiction recovery in the area.

PERA: There’s the component for me that I feel like is so critical, as far as social support goes, and that is for me, you know, 12-step meetings and those support groups. I think getting into those groups was for me, one of the first big sighs of relief I can remember in my life of like, “Oh my God, like, I’m not the only one. I’m not alone.”

MICHELSON: Pera said he also reached out to Northwestern’s chapter of Active Minds, a national organization that promotes open conversations about mental health. He shared his story at the club’s annual Stigma Panel in the fall.

PERA: I love doing stuff like that, even though it’s obviously a bit out of my comfort zone. There’s situations that I’ve had, where people have come up to me after one of those talks and shared their personal experience, or shared that they’re struggling with something similar. So for me, I mean, that’s what it’s all about, in terms of why I like to do those kinds of things, is because I always like to feel like I’m making an impact, hopefully in a positive way, on the way that people think about themselves.

MICHELSON: While Kellogg offers some resources through their student association, like a wellness club and a mental health committee, Pera said the overall culture surrounding mental health is not particularly supportive.

PERA: The culture is such that there’s a lot of positivity, which I think is great. But it tends to lead to people are kind of talking a lot about the accomplishments of their friends and celebrating one another’s successes. And I think that if you’re in a spot where you’re not doing so well, it can be a very isolating place. It’s complicated, because of course, we want to celebrate the success of one another. But I think being more mindful of just wanting to be more open and available, and just being a more supportive community, or I guess welcoming community to people who are in need of support.

MICHELSON: When I asked Pera what “safe” means to him in context of mental health, he said it comes down to conversations rather than physical spaces.

PERA: Just the more people that are able to speak honestly about what they’re feeling, where they’re at mentally and emotionally and all that kind of stuff, I think the better everyone’s life will be. So I think that for me, that safety just kind of comes with everyone having a certain mindset and attitude about having difficult conversations. But I think that at the end of the day, the only thing that you can control is the way that you personally approach those conversations. For me, that’s the way that I would think about it, is just a place, a community where people can be open.

MICHELSON: Would you have any advice to undergrads who might be in the position that you were when you started experiencing symptoms your sophomore year, like people who are just starting to kind of figure out there might be something up and don’t really know what to do about it?

PERA: The advice I would have is just like, when in doubt, definitely ask for help and reach out. I think that’s something that I learned through my experience that I wish I had done for sure is just like, be open and be vulnerable. And it’s a really, really hard step to take, to be super vulnerable. But I think that what I’ve been amazed with, through my experience at Kellogg, is that by opening up to other people and being vulnerable, you give everyone else permission to do the same thing. And I think that it creates room for very open and honest conversations to take place.

MICHELSON: Make sure to check out our other Mental Health Month episode of Defining Safe to hear another student’s experience with mental health. From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Andrea Michelson. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

Email: andreamichelson2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @amichelson18

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