by Gabriela Godlewski (CE ’19)
The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Pioneer as a whole.
The article “Something We Don’t Talk About” set the ball rolling for the topic of mental health and how what we go through as Cooper students plays a role in our wellbeing. None of us are strangers to stress here. The expectations from professors and the mountains of work are sometimes enough to push people past a breaking point. As Cooper students, we are a unique group of people that are here because we deserve to be here. But we are all also unique in that stress, anxiety, and depression manifests within each of us differently. Not everyone goes through that amount of stress here, but enough of us do for us to bring it to light and talk about it candidly.
The numbers are increasing, more people are talking about it, and now the question is: how can we help?
And we have been talking about it more candidly and openly than before. Every one of us has ranted about their stress and other negative feelings to their friends and family at least a few times. More and more people are becoming more comfortable with the idea of talking about the depression, anxiety, and other illnesses they experience because the stigma surrounding mental health is lessening. This recognition about mental health could come in response to the increasing rates of depression.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression currently affects 6.7% of people ages 18 and older living in the United States, while anxiety affects 18.1% of the same demographic. These numbers have nearly doubled since 1998. However, it is also possible that our openness to talking about mental health has led to the increase in these numbers, as more people are made aware of the importance of their mental health leading them to seeking diagnosis and help. No matter the cause, the numbers continue to grow. It is projected that depression will become one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the world, second only to heart disease.
The numbers are increasing, more people are talking about it, and now the question is: how can we help? Few of us are licensed therapists, so all we can really offer is a listening ear, emotional support, and love for those who need it. In some cases, that’s all it takes to help someone feel better. The article “Something We Don’t Talk About” was focused on the counseling sessions offered to students at Cooper and mentions that only 20% of the student body takes advantage of these sessions. I strongly recommend to anyone who feels the need to talk to someone to go to counseling!
I took advantage of counseling the first moment I could. Before Cooper, I was a little stressed and I had days where I felt pretty down. Unfortunately, I had no resources to which I could reach out to help me when I needed it. When I came to Cooper, the stress I knew before developed into full-blown anxiety. In high school, I had friends that suffered from test anxiety and I never understood what they were going through until I sat down for my first chemistry exam at Cooper. The room spun and I felt a rising sense of helplessness for the duration of the test. The anxiety came back in different forms at different times throughout the course of my freshman year whether I was taking a test or not. It was a stranger in my head that wouldn’t go away. I had never felt anything like it and had no idea how to handle it myself, so I scheduled a counseling session with Nicole, one of the counselors, the first chance I had. That session I had with her not only let me familiarize myself with the counseling Cooper offers but also gave me the help I really needed to begin tackling the anxiety. Since then I have become familiar with both Nicole and Philip and have seen both counselors regularly with plans on returning.
The counseling program we have at the Cooper Union is currently expanding. Neither Nicole Struensee nor Philip Bockman are employed full-time at Cooper, so the school is hiring a full-time counselor to work with students. According to Dean Chris Chamberlin, “having a full time person here will provide a level of consistency and integration with Cooper as well as expand what we can do.” Although both Philip and Nicole are skilled at their jobs, having a full-time counselor at the Cooper Union would allow that person to develop a better understanding of the culture that Cooper students experience. The person in this role will organize programs and workshops that proactively raise awareness about mental health in a meaningful way.
Schoolwork is important, but what’s more important is your well-being.
That’s not to say that Nicole or Philip do not have a good understanding of the Cooper culture; on the contrary, Dean Chamberlin says that response to counseling has been “overwhelmingly positive.” However, the school’s desire to hire a full-time counselor shows that the administration cares about students’ mental health and wants to help the students as much as possible.
We are all unique individuals, so stress manifests in us differently. Stress can be caused by various different things and affect us in very different ways, so there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that takes so many different forms. There have been people dissatisfied with their counseling experiences most likely because it just did not work for them the way it works for others. Fortunately, counseling isn’t the only thing available to us that works wonders on mental health. At Cooper, even the smallest adjustments can make a difference. When the stress becomes overwhelming, sometimes all you need to do is take a step back from all the work and focus on yourself — get some sleep, eat a good meal, talk to a trusted friend or family member. Schoolwork is important, but what’s more important is your well-being. ◊