I know you’ve heard this one before on aesthetic Instagram posts, posters, and as a blanket statement for mental health positivity, especially recently since September is Suicide Awareness Month. “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay.” You see it everywhere, but do you really think about it much anymore? Do you internalize it at all? Or do you continue with your business as usual? Do you acknowledge the point of these phrases at all? Do you scoff at the cliche phrases plastered around every turn?
I will always be an advocate for mental health awareness and destigmatization. I do, however, have an issue with the way that we have apparently become desensitized rather than destigmatized. Depression and suicidal ideation are widely known to be common among college students, yet what do we as students do enough to look out for each other and ourselves?
I am not here to take a moral high-ground on this issue necessarily; many of my friends can attest to my use of humor to cope with strong emotions. However, I am here to discuss and critique the flaws in our current culture around mental health and wellness. I believe that there are massive flaws in our culture of what I’ll call “Mental Health Acceptance” rather than Mental Health Awareness.
I am going to take a second to juxtapose acceptance vs. awareness so that my following points will be better understood. Acceptance is when we casually make jokes about committing suicide when we’re stressed or upset (an activity that I am 100% guilty of), it’s glorifying unhealthy lifestyles like normalizing the overconsumption of caffeine, and all the activities we associate with “grind culture,” where we’ve become accustomed to self-destructive behaviors. Acceptance is brushing past concerning behaviors in your friends and in yourself rather than taking the proper steps to improve the situation.
Awareness comes in the form of checking in on your friends, even if you know they’re only making a joke; this is something I admittedly have not always been the best at practicing. Mental Health Awareness also comes in the form of self-awareness. Take a second to examine yourself; ask why you feel the way you do, and if it might be time to seek help for yourself. Your current situation may be more easily fixed than you think. Some may also refer to this as mindfulness. Whatever word you choose, the sentiment is the same.
Again, I don’t mean to sound like I’m speaking from a perspective of naivete; I know what it’s like to be in the throes of depression, to feel like a husk of a person. I know what it’s like to be so anxious that I can’t leave my room without feeling sick. I know what it’s like to feel numb to the world, and to wish I could just fade into a wall. It’s a difficult spiral to climb out of, but I did.
The thing that harmed me the most during those times, the mentality that kept me down and fed into my spiraling mentality, was this acceptance of suicidal ideation among young people. I was always tired during those times because I was having trouble sleeping. But when I spoke to peers, all they did was go on and on about all the Monster Energy they were slamming each day, how they stayed up until 3AM the night before, and how they also wanted to die. As a young teen, I looked at this and said to myself “Well, apparently everyone feels this way, so I guess my feelings must not be that bad.”
This is where acceptance instead of awareness becomes legitimately dangerous. Per UCLA Health, “Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 in the U.S. Nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9% have made an attempt to take their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.”
This is an issue we know exists, and we truly need to do more to support our peers who are struggling. It’s not hard to change. Being “relatable” to your friends is nowhere near as important as making sure they’re okay. It’s important to recognize the difference between dark humor and a call for help. Check in with your friends and peers, even if they are doing okay, there is absolutely no harm in showing that you do care about them.
I suppose I should be a woman of my word and check in with my peers. From me to you: It’s okay if you’re not okay, it really is. If you’re feeling isolated, hopeless, or like no one wants to listen to you, just know that that’s not true. There are people out there that are willing to support you through everything, and your feelings are not something to be joked about.
It is so easy to compare struggles, to see all the dismissive humor around it, and to think that depressive behaviors and attitudes are not that serious. I promise you, your feelings are valid and deserve to be heard and taken seriously. Please don’t think destroying yourself is normal or won’t have consequences for your health in the future; take care of yourself now so you can be a better person tomorrow.
If you are struggling currently, there are resources on campus that are here to help you. You can call the counseling center at 701-231-7671. If you are in a crisis, call the National Suicide Hotline at 988. The services are included in your tuition, it’s located just a short walk away from Memorial Union to Ceres Hall, and all the amazing staff there have your best interests in mind.
Talk to your friends or family; they among anyone else should care about your wellbeing. If they can’t find it in themselves to take your feelings seriously, they don’t deserve to have you in their lives. You matter, you are important, and you will go on to do great things if you just allow yourself the grace to heal.