Moving forward with awareness
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Dearest ND community,
It is with deep sorrow that we compose this letter after the unexpected death of Annrose Jerry. Opportunities that should have been taken to address the situation are now in the past, and we must find a way to move forward. Besides mourning and prayer, the most constructive thing we can do as a unified community is to make every effort to prevent similar situations from ever happening again. In this letter, we hope to shine a light on two distinct yet deeply connected aspects of mental health from the perspective of current college students. We’re Tom Guo, a member of the Folk Choir, and Dave Mohan, a member of the Indian-American community here at Notre Dame.
The death of Annrose Jerry is a tragic loss that has shaken the Notre Dame community. As a Catholic school with strong values, Notre Dame should be a place where everyone feels they can seek help for whatever issues they are dealing with, no matter the severity. However, despite the many resources available (such as the University Counseling Center, residence hall rectors, priests-in-residence and various hotlines), some college students feel helpless in the face of mental struggle, especially in the Indian community.
In 2018, The Live Laugh Love Foundation commissioned a national survey in India that revealed the horrific way in which Indian people perceive mental health, shining a light on the deep-seated stigmas surrounding mental illness amongst Indians and Indian-Americans. According to the survey, only 10 to 12% of people suffering through mental health problems seek any sort of help. This is likely due to the stigma over mental health that is ever-present in the Indian community, as exposed by the study through statistics such as 60% of Indian people think “one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and will-power.” This sentiment alone is enough to ingrain a deeply rooted sense of worthlessness in the Indian youth who suffer through common problems like depression. The attitudes of the Indian population are equally present in the Indian-American community as well, making the already stressful lives of many Indian-American children all the more stressful without adequate support from family. In my own experience, I have been lucky enough for this not to be the case; however, I have interacted with too many young adults my age who simply feel they lack support or are even unwilling to admit they need help due to the highly stigmatized nature of the issue.
Rather than being seen as an illness, the Indian community all too often sees mental illness as a sign of weakness, easily preventable for the strong of heart. However, this is far from the case. Depression and other forms of mental illness truly are a form of disease and, just like any other ailment, require treatment. It is of immense importance that any person who feels they may need help actively seeks it out before it is too late. Even with the stigmas that surround mental health, whether it be in the Indian community or not, depression is not something to be taken lightly, and those suffering from the disease should not feel as though their need to combat the illness is a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of great strength to face adversity and win.
Though we do not wish to be presumptuous in assuming the details of Annrose’s situation, such an atrocity makes us all realize the severity of mental health issues and the necessity of adequate treatments, especially on college campuses, as they are breeding grounds of sorts for stress and anxiety. Our deepest condolences go out to Annrose’s family, her close friends and the communities she’s a part of. Death, though it is a part of life, is the most painful thing when experienced unnaturally. Should any person at Notre Dame feel that they need help, we hope they know they are brave and strong in doing so. Notre Dame is a community of love, and it is our obligation — as individuals and as members of this community — to ensure that each and every person feels that love.
It’s difficult to walk a mile in another’s shoes, especially when the issues they are experiencing are at a hormonal level. Nevertheless, as outsiders looking into the world of mental illness, we should seek every opportunity to help those who are suffering.
Even though I saw Annrose at rehearsals, choir dinners and Mass three times a week for over six hours, it was extremely difficult to notice signs that potentially point towards any sort of mental illness. Sure, she was quiet, but some people are just naturally introverted; being socially reserved is not necessarily an indication of depression, though it can be. None of us could have seen something like this coming. To our knowledge, she was a normal member of the Folk Choir; someone who showed up to practice regularly and loved what she described as a ‘group of angels.’ However, the facade she projected to the rest of the world was likely not representative of her innermost emotions. Common signs like irritability, lack of ambition and reduced inclination to participate in social activities can oftentimes be near impossible to pick up on, making our task as loving members of the community a lot harder, as many people will effectively mask their issues. My main takeaway from this tragic experience is that since the signs of mental illness can be so hard to detect, we must make it a point to treat everyone with love and care so as to avoid incidents like this in the future. Whether it be a simple hello or a genuine discussion about one’s mood, we can all do our part in combating mental illness.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.