‘If You’re Reading This NU’ aims to destigmatize mental health struggles, create networks of connection


Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

“If You’re Reading This NU” accepts letter submissions about mental health experiences and posts them on its Instagram and online.

Kara Peeler, Print Managing Editor

After becoming friends last academic year, Weinberg sophomores Seela Hinrichs and Finola Summerville realized that NU students lack mental health resources at an institution with a culture of perfectionism. 

“I feel like everyone in our classroom is always struggling with something,” Hinrichs said.

To address mental health stigmas, Hinrichs and Summerville co-founded a NU chapter of “If You’re Reading This,” a national organization founded by students at the University of Virginia aiming to connect shared struggles and experiences.

Each chapter accepts submissions from students, faculty and alumni about their mental health experiences. Readers can reach out to those who write letters on the “If You’re Reading This” website to connect about shared struggles and experiences. 

Whether in relation to family issues, imposter syndrome or transitioning to a new academic setting, the NU chapter is meant to help struggling students feel less alone, Hinrichs said. 

“Whatever your struggle is like, there’s someone else that has it too,” Hinrichs said.

The NU chapter has already published two letters and plans to release one per week online and on Instagram, according to Summerville.

She said she hopes the chapter receives submissions from all across campus so online visitors are more likely to read about experiences they can relate to. 

“Particularly being Northwestern students, I would say the majority of the student body here is used to excelling,” Summerville said. “To be at Northwestern, it takes so much hard work, and I think that it can kind of be a shock in college when things aren’t going as well as they used to be” 

Weinberg senior Kade Kelley said he mentioned his first-year mental health experiences as a peer adviser. He was the first NU student to submit a letter for “If You’re Reading This NU” and wrote about introversion and difficulties regarding fitting in.

Kelley said he felt vulnerable sharing his story and questioned how much information he should make public. 

But, after the letter was posted, Kelley said some of his peers reached out to say they similarly wished for further normalization of mental health struggles. Kelley said he hopes more NU students connect with each other in discussing mental health moving forward.  

Normalizing mental health struggles could help reduce stigmas and encourage individuals to seek support when needed, he said. 

We just help people on college campuses understand that they’re not alone, creating a network of people who are also going through the same things that we’re all going through,” said Medill sophomore and former Daily staffer Julia Nichols, the NU chapter’s photographer.

Social media can present a false idea of people’s experiences, Nichols said, which the “If You’re Reading This NU” Instagram account aims to counteract. 

Hinrichs and Summerville said the chapter has received significant public support on Instagram so far, including many positive comments and letter reposting.

Nichols also said there is a lack of mental health resources or real support at NU — which is where some student organizations step in.

Kelley said students have an understanding of what resources they need but that it is hard for the University to actually acquire those resources.

“We have a lot of mental health resources that students have had really negative experiences with,” Kelley said. “(If You’re Reading This) is very student-centric, as far as understanding the types of problems that people go through here at Northwestern and the struggles that people have here.” 

Summerville said the NU chapter is not officially recognized by Student Organizations and Activities yet, but the team is working on expanding its presence on campus.

“If You’re Reading This NU” hopes to eventually host meetings and events, according to Summerville.

“I hope it just creates an open communication for people to feel like there’s a space where they can talk about mental health and just life and feel like vulnerability isn’t weakness,” Nichols said, “where they can just come as they are, knowing that who they are is welcome here.”

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Twitter: @karapeeler

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