It is the middle of a cold, snowy February. The sun rises at 7:00 a.m. and sets before dinner. Classes are swinging into full gear, and the guiltless naps and Netflix marathons of Interim seem a distant memory as you make the freezing hike from Buntrock to Old Main for your third class of the day. You are ready for anything this semester can throw at you, but you are already worn down. How does everyone in your 8:00 a.m. look so put together when you can barely stick a toothbrush in your mouth before you crawl to class? How does that girl who makes time for an hour at Skoglund every day get around to homework, organizations and socializing? How can the sun shine so brightly when the wind chill is ten below? Why am I the only one struggling?
Even though many of us are, on a certain level, happy to be at St. Olaf, the winter can get long and moods can dip very, very low. Whether a student is suffering from clinical depression, seasonal affective disorder or is simply feeling run down and burnt out, it’s difficult to come to terms with these negative feelings. Yes, we like to think of Oles as happy people, but this image alienates us when we feel anything else. You’re surrounded by people who seem to have no issues at all and are having the time of their lives, and you feel isolated and confused.
I heard a professor describe it as “cruel optimism.” It’s good that so many people here are really, truly happy, but those who are unhappy feel alienated.
St. Olaf offers many services to promote mental health on campus. The Boe House Counseling Center provides students with individual counseling, group counseling, workshops, consultations and referrals at no extra cost to any currently enrolled student. The Wellness Center is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and students can talk to Peer Educators and attend programs on many topics, including mental health and nutrition.
These are great comprehensive resources for students struggling with their mental health. However, I think St. Olaf needs a level of mental healthcare between suffering in silence and going to Boe House for counseling, and that care should come from other students.
Looking out for others’ mental health is not a groundbreaking idea, but it’s always good to remind people that you need to look out for your friends and classmates, especially at this time of year.
It is cold and grey outside, and the relentless freezing temperatures can get people down, especially your friends who come from warmer states. Not only is it freezing cold, but it’s also a really busy time, academically. Sure, it’s not finals, but the early weeks of a new semester can be hectic as people try to rediscover their routine and get used to new classes. It’s a daily grind. It’s cold and dark outside, and it’s easy to lose sight of the good and to only focus on the bad.
As a campus, we need to step up and look out for one another when times are tough. It can be as easy as texting a friend who you haven’t seen around in a while to make sure they’re doing alright or getting coffee with somebody you know is having a tough time. It can be as simple as listening and as beautiful as being the person that makes a real difference in someone’s day, week or even year.