Once upon a time, a girl walked into her physics final, jittery and anxious. She was on four hours of sleep and suffering from endless anxiety, partially due to the energy drinks she had substituted for water on a daily basis. But nothing mattered to her more than her performance on this final. The exam concluded in three hours, but the stress and exhaustion lingered for weeks. That girl was me. But this narrative isn’t just mine — many students can relate. As the semester winds down, I, as a mental health leader, urge our peers to keep this in mind: your mental health matters. It matters more than your grades, more than your extracurriculars, more than your employment.
In a recent town hall, an individual described the Berkeley experience similar to a “swimming duck,” and I couldn’t agree more with this analogy. No matter how much water is displaced, no matter how stressful circumstances become, we continue to swim on our own, not realizing that everyone is in the same boat. And ironically, as a result, we gain a sense of loneliness.
While many of us, included me, find ourselves equating mental health illness as depression, it’s important to realize mental health is a spectrum — it entails different conditions and treatments. Recently, anxiety topped depression as the most common mental illness diagnosed among college students. Therefore, especially in the upcoming three weeks, I encourage students to keep the three provisions of the Half of Us pledge in mind:
1) Tell someone when you’re struggling
2) Reach out and help a friend get support if they ask
3) Help break the stigma surrounding mental health
Remember that your mental health is your health. And just like physical illnesses, your health takes precedence over academics. Furthermore, education is a privilege — only 6.7 percent of the world’s population holds a college degree. Even if your best doesn’t seem to be enough, it still is something. In the next couple of weeks, I ask students to make their mental health the highest priority: Take breaks, give yourself small rewards for finishing projects, make sure to eat three meals a day and eat snacks in between study sessions. Individuals who space out their work with breaks have a better performance overall. When circumstances become intense, don’t resort to alcohol or other substances to cope; some of the side effects include hindered learning ability, which is the last thing any student needs for finals week.
Contrary to popular myth, people do reach out for help in times of crisis. Yet with mental illness is often stigmatized as something we can “just get over with,” resulting in individuals internalizing feelings of shame. We can work on changing that. Take note of the warning signs; they can range from feelings of hopelessness to a loss of interest in daily routine. Reach out to your friends — even being a compassionate listener is incredibly significant. Listen to their narratives. Validate what they feel. Those steps can ultimately be more powerful than delivering instructions.
Furthermore, by promoting awareness, we as a campus body can help destigmatize mental health. Support your peers when they turn to you in need. Check in with your acquaintances. These tiny steps can help establish a culture in which people don’t need to be afraid to seek help. I also urge faculty and GSIs to join this cause. Email your students mental health resources. Let them know you understand this time is stressful. Your solidarity is vital in shifting the cutthroat culture at UC Berkeley.
Know your rights. Temporary Disabled Students Program is an option if a student has a disability that could impact their performance in an academic setting — this includes both physical and mental conditions. Failure for fulfilling DSP accommodations is a direct violation of federal law. Students in such experiences can reach out to the Student Advocate’s Office to file a grievance against UC Berkeley. Furthermore, counseling and psychological services at the Tang Center offer drop-ins. For students living on Northside or locations from which Tang is not accessible, University Health Services also has drop-in counseling at select drop-in locations, including the Haas School of Business and Bechtel Engineering Center.
That being said, finding help for issues related to mental health can still be an endless game of connecting the dots. If you have any questions or concerns regarding resources, I encourage you to email the Mental Health Coalition at [email protected]. For years, UC Berkeley’s culture has been deemed as cutthroat. But together, we can help reform that. For more resources, check out mhc.berkeley.edu.
Deepika Dilip is the co-chair of the Mental Health Coalition and a UC Berkeley senior.
A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that the Tang Center offers drop-in counseling after 5 p.m. on select weekdays. In fact, drop-in hours are only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.