Students discuss mental health in Student Diversity Board panel
Cora Haddad | Friday, April 1, 2022
The conclusion of the Student Diversity Board’s (SDB) Mental Health Speaker Series was held in Saint Mary’s Rice Commons Tuesday evening. Preceded by two other events, the student panel was composed of representatives from the Eating Disorder Awareness Club (EDAC) and Belles Supporting Belles (BSB).
President and founder of the EDAC, junior Julia O’Grady spoke on her personal experience as a student at Saint Mary’s.
“It was a culture shock coming to a college campus,” O’Grady said.
O’Grady overviewed her experience regarding how COVID impacted her eating disorder.
“Then into my sophomore year it was really challenging with all of the COVID changes on campus, I looking back and being able to reflect that’s actually, it alone. All these changes, it was really hard for me to grapple with [I] think that’s kind of what enabled my eating disorder to thrive,” she said.
Moira Boyle, EDAC’s Treasurer, shared her reality as well.
“Freshman year it was definitely a hard time for me mentally just trying to acclimate and make sure I was putting myself out there enough. But I’m lucky that I have a therapist I’m able to see. And so I’m just like a huge advocate for going to therapy, whether or not you have a mental disorder,” Boyle said.
Junior and Mental Health Committee Chair for BSB, Annie Maher, spoke on her freshman year at a different college and her transition to Saint Mary’s.
“It was my first time being away from South Bend and I was very depressed and just all of it had a huge impact. And so while the pandemic wasn’t great, it was great that I got to be home. Second semester freshman year by that point, I didn’t know I was coming to Saint Mary’s, and so I think that has really helped just being back in that environment that I know and love,” she said.
Maher spoke of her time at Saint Mary’s as well — specifically trying to find a balance.
“I do think one of the biggest things for me, especially this year as a junior, has been trying to have a school-work-life balance. I feel like there is a lot happening… But I definitely think that the more you get used to college, the easier it is to actually find your rhythm and take care of yourself,” Maher said.
Boyle expanded on Maher’s statement: “I just try to take things [one] day at a time… do some self care if I can. It’s just something small I do. Taking time for yourself is super important in college.”
O’Grady elaborated on Boyle’s idea of taking time for oneself while in college.
“Sounds kinda cliche but journaling for me has been very helpful. And there is something about just actually having a pen and paper and like taking the time just letting your thoughts all pour out, that it’s just kind of like a wave of release can just go over you.. [School] — it’s just so busy but I feel like you need to make it a priority to do at least one form of self care or something that brings you joy every day”
SDB asked many questions ranging from how to have difficult conversations to how to avoid ‘harmful’ language. Boyle spoke on toxic positivity and its effects on the conversation surrounding mental health.
“I mentioned toxic positivity earlier. That’s a huge thing. Sometimes you can’t just brush things off as you know, people have it worse than you like. It is important to consider someone going through a hard time and just try to be sensitive to whatever the topic is,” Boyle said.
Maher later spoke on how to consider all people involved.
“So always just understand that everybody has their own experiences with their mental health, that everybody’s trying to work and work through that. And so the best thing you can do is be there for them and be there for yourself,” Maher said.
On the subject of support around the Saint Mary’s community, Boyle said “I think we have really good counselors here at the Health and Counseling Center… I know Campus Ministry is usually a resource too.”
Maher spoke to the utility of hall staff within the dorms at Saint Mary’s, saying “We say your resident advisor is also always there for you and your ministry advisor,” Maher said.
Panelists commented on the way they believe Saint Mary’s can change the conversation regarding mental health. Specifically on the College faculty’s stance on “Mental Health days.”
“I think it can get hard sometimes but I think really working towards understanding that mental health is something that everybody has, has to work with and so only allowing one unexcused absence isn’t going to help anything,” Maher stated.
Maher added to this and provided advice on how to speak with a professor regarding extensions and absences related to mental health.
“If you’re willing to and you’re comfortable with that always like go up to your professor and be honest with them and say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this or I can’t do this right now or I need extension on this,’” Maher said.
O’Grady, advocating on behalf of the EDAC suggested an addition to the Saint Mary’s Health and Counseling staff.
“Since we are in an all-women’s college, I think an eating disorder counselor of some sort, or nutritionist or dietitian should be incorporated into the Health and Counseling Center. And maybe just like more resources in general” O’Grady said.