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On the importance of crying

| Monday, November 19, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking on North Quad when I saw two girls approaching me. One of them was sobbing hysterically and talking on the phone about whatever was troubling her. The other girl, presumably her friend, walked next to her, staring straight ahead, as if her friend was not having an emotional breakdown.

I wish I could say my first thought was something of a sympathetic nature to the girl — it wasn’t. Instead, I found myself thinking, “Wow, I really respect her.” Although I am sympathetic to whatever was troubling this girl, what really struck me was her openness about her problems. Not often do you see people here at Notre Dame acknowledging publicly that the world around them seems to be crumbling — although many of us do actually feel this way frequently.

I think it’s realistic to say that many of our days as college students, and as humans in general, are not-so-great. I don’t want to go too deeply into the mental health issues plaguing college students, but it does need to be acknowledged.

Psychology Today reports that in a 2013 survey of college students, 57 percent of women and 40 percent of men reported experiencing episodes of “overwhelming anxiety,” and 33 percent of women and 27 percent of men reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function. These numbers are far too high for there to still be a stigma attached to mental illness.

I feel as if the importance of lowering the stigma associated with mental illness will not come completely across without my own candidness.

During my freshman year, there were many days where I found myself unable to get out of bed each morning, and not from exhaustion. I felt a sense of indifference to most things. I retreated to my bed whenever possible, and I avoided activities and groups I knew I wanted to be part of. I skipped more classes than I cared to admit to anyone.

After talking extensively with loving friends and family, and eventually getting some outside help, I came to the conclusion that my mental health problems were not my own fault. Mental illness is not something to be controlled alone and talked about in hushed tones. As a society we do not spend enough time talking about how this especially affects college students.

All of this is not to say that this crying girl is struggling with mental illness. But, I would be remiss if I did not bring up the college student mental health crisis that runs rampant on all college campuses, including this one.

In saying that, I think it’s important to stop acting like we are doing “good” or “OK.” Because it’s totally fine, normal even, to just be struggling.

Last week I found myself in a particularly bad mood. For some reason, I chose to attack my hair to get my anger out. Yes, that’s right, I did the classic “emotional turmoil haircut”. A half an hour and a chunk of missing hair later, I found myself on the phone with a hair salon making an appointment to fix my mistake. Afterwards, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t done something less destructive to get my emotions out. Why hadn’t I just cried like the girl I’d admired a week ago? I have come to the conclusion the culprit was the stigma against appearing as if we are not doing well. That, and my scissors.

But studies show that crying can often be cathartic and good for you. Crying can bring you closer to your friends, and even though it may feel like you are just showing weakness, sometimes that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even if you’re just upset about a bad grade on a test, or you’re feeling overwhelmed, or something terrible just went down in your personal life, maybe crying can help. Or at the very least, maybe acknowledging that things are not going well for you will help.

So, take some time to cry when you’re feeling down. Find something that releases your emotions in a healthy way. Or, if it’s a more serious and chronic issue, get some outside help, such as counseling. Or, if you really need to, walk across North Quad crying.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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