Safe spaces in a mental health crisis

Safe spaces in a mental health crisis

In some ways, the call for safe spaces is an attempt to help people navigate the growing mental health crisis present on so many college campuses in the United States.

Approximately one in three college freshman have a mental health issue, and there’s evidence that recent decades have seen a large increase in psychopathology among college students.

As a student at Northwestern, I saw first-hand that mental health is a rampant issue on our campus. Nearly every quarter since my sophomore year, at least one student at Northwestern has died.

Not all of the losses were suicides, but many of them were. Next to “The Rock,” a boulder on campus that students traditionally paint to advertise events or express opinions, there’s now a tree painted with the names of students who have passed away.

The increase in school shootings and threats has also had an impact on campus. In 2018, our campus went on lockdown after reports of an active shooter. It ended up being a hoax, but many of us spent hours huddled in dorms and classrooms sending messages to our families.

Suicides, traumatic incidents, whatever the circumstances — these events leave a lasting impact on students and the wider community. But many of us have become desensitized. This is our new normal.

“Trauma strips away the sense of safety in communities, and when peers or fellow students die by suicide, communities and loved ones may feel guilty, angry, and confused,” Fraga explains. “Those struggling with depression may be particularly impacted.”

For many of us, our “normal” also means coping with mental illness. I’ve watched peers struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders. Most of us know someone who has been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused.

All of us — even those of us who come from privileged backgrounds — arrive at college carrying trauma or some form of emotional baggage.

We’re thrust into a new environment that can often become an academic pressure cooker and we have to figure out how to take care of ourselves without the support of our family or community at home.

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