Jared Wood, Anya Levendusky, Laura Miller, Ali Mitchell
The Waring community strives to foster a safe and supportive environment for all students. With that being said, there are definite areas in which we can improve. This team of journalists has worked over the past few weeks emailing alumni who have, and continue to struggle with depression. We have tried to develop a piece that not only shows how Waring is beginning to move in the right direction but also to critique our school in order to ensure a positive and more supportive environment for all students. We think that it is the community’s job to better our knowledge surrounding depression and work together to decrease the stigma that you may or may not feel is present here at Waring.
Depression in our modern world is beginning to step into the limelight. Schools are trying to become more accountable for the general mental health of their students. Depression has always been present in school environments, however as communication in this age has increased, the stigma surrounding this disease has been influenced in both positive and negative ways. We hear countless stories of students who suffer from depression and never get the help they need, which leads to devastating results. Sadly, the suicide rate in our country has increased over the last 9 years. The chart above shows that for every 100,000 individuals, from 2006-2015, there has been an increase from 11 to 13 people that commit suicide. These statistics may suggest that the stigma that surrounds depressions is becoming worse, and not better, as media and publicity take hold of the portrayal of the disease. However, by making depression more widely talked about and accepted as the serious illness it is, more and more cases are being diagnosed. As it becomes more present in our world, depression has not only begun to manifest itself into a need for knowledge but also a desire to stop the devastating impacts this disease can lead to. By decreasing the stigma we can make it easier for kids and adults to share their symptoms and get the help and treatment needed to overcome it.
The idea that depression was rare at Waring was quickly disproved as we read the responses of Waring alumni. Depression was and is not as uncommon as people may want to believe, even in a place that prides itself on discussion, transparency and support of one another. After reaching out to many past students, men and women, the only male response we received was from a student who graduated in 2002. Sadly, he opened up to us about the harsh reality he and his peers faced while attending. One of the most surprising and upsetting things he admitted was that “even just in [his] own graduating class, [he] knew of several other people who were struggling with mental health, who attempted suicide, who engaged in self-harm, [and] who engaged in severe substance abuse.” He continued to explain that, because it wasn’t talked about, he is unsure if any of these students received treatment and admitted that neither did he .
We asked the alumni, “Do you think Waring made it easier or harder to deal with your depression?” Interestingly, almost every response we received was either “both” or “a combination of the two.” Some of the positive characteristics about Waring that helped these alums deal with their depression were the very supportive and close relationships that can be made in a community such as ours. One alum told us, “Waring is an environment where individual relationships are really nurtured and a lot of those individual relationships were so important to me throughout my time at Waring (shout out to Joshua Scott-Fishburn)…. the smaller relationships that are so woven into the Waring tapestry were absolutely helpful for me.” Another alum told us, “I think Waring made it easier to not have to take a real leave of absence from school when I was at my worst, and ultimately worked with me and my parents to help me from falling behind or having to take an incomplete in my classes” (Dorothy, class of ‘99). Waring often prides itself on two things: the first being that it is extremely supportive, where people are able to cultivate close relationships between the students and faculty, and where the student body is a second family to most. The second is that we are all trying to understand and care about those around us. This is not only while on campus, we strive to create life-long relationships that follow us to wherever we go and even after we’re gone, we never truly leave the community. The alums showed us that, while Waring is trying to succeed in these two things, which both have wonderful effects on the ways in which students deal with their depression, we don’t have everything figured out quite yet.
Along with all of the wonderful things that accompany how we handle depression at Waring, we still have a long way to go to make sure everyone is safe, comfortable, and healthy. Waring is starting, or trying, to acknowledge the serious effects that depression can have on people’s schoolwork and social lives, however, there is also a looming pressure to “stay composed” while on campus. People feel the need to bottle up their emotions and focus on their work. We’re known for our rigorous, “college-esque” courses and late nights filled with work. Truthfully, we all take pride in the work we do, however, even though the strenuous tasks can be a way to take your mind off of things, eventually that bottle will overflow and some students will not be able to cope with the mess. With the responses we received, it was evident that especially in our past, not everyone felt the support we all say we feel today. One respondent who graduated quite a long time ago said, “while I heard a lot about ‘the Waring way’ and how lucky I was to go to a school that looked at students as whole people, I simply never received any help. I don’t think anyone really ever asked if I was okay.” Today at Waring, asking if someone is okay is much more frequent, but oftentimes that is not enough. Assuming that everyone is doing well until they ask for help isn’t the way a mental disease can be fixed. While health classes attempt to explain to kids “what depression is” people aren’t really taught how to deal with it other than being told that they can always ask for help or should go to an adult. “But again, Waring – at least at that time – prided itself on being different, on somehow providing a more ‘complete’ education. Not proactively providing help to support students with mental health issues seems to me to go beyond a sin of omission; it looks to me like hypocrisy that hurt[s] people,” said a graduate from the class of ‘02. We need to come together as a community and become more aware that the actions and words we say to people can have a serious effect on their lives inside and outside of school. We’re close and we can get there if we all work together.
Our school prides ourselves on the fact that we are inclusive, kind, helpful to all students. For the most part we succeed everyday, saying hello to our fellow peers on the quad and being inclusive in class. However, as these alumni have shown, if we want to create the community that truly allows everyone to thrive here, it requires all of us to go one step further. We must ask questions and make friendships and relationships that are deeper than a shallow knowledge. When this happens as peers, students, and teachers we will be able to push past the surface of apparent emotions, and fulfill our duty to maintain and look out for the commutative and personal mental health of our whole school.