Push for stress culture dialogue is a step in the right direction
Artwork by Tami Tedesco
“Fun comes to die at Carnegie Mellon.” These words are thrown around casually on a pretty regular basis on campus, yet the significance may run far deeper. Whether one takes this statement with a grain of salt or regards it with deep sincerity or anywhere in between, there is no way a student can graduate from Carnegie Mellon University without hearing that phrase — or something to that effect — at least once.
Throughout campus, Carnegie Mellon has sparked conversation by placing posters in various parts that allow students to anonymously respond to a topic pertaining to stress culture. The poster on the first floor of Hunt Library has “CMU Stress Culture Doesn’t Exist. Thoughts?” written in bold capital letters, and responses have been generally negative, ranging from “alternative facts” to “then why does everyone have crippling anxiety?”
Two more posters hung up on the sixth floor of the Gates Hillman Complex opened up dialogue. One asks students for their “thoughts on CMU’s recent mental health initiatives,” which also has an overwhelming number of cynical comments that can be summarized by one response: “what initiatives?”
In no way is mental health an ongoing topic exclusively held here at Carnegie Mellon University. Suicide claims over 1,000 college students' lives annually, and the number of students who have struggled with mental health at least once in their college experience is about forty percent as of 2013, although this may be an underestimate because of barriers such as continued stigma attached to mental health.
Furthermore, that number has more than likely increased since then. Organizations such as Active Minds ravel across the nation stressing to students that seeking help for mental health is a sign of strength. They also work to inform college students about the statistics on student mental health, and potential signs of someone struggling.
Many college campuses have also taken initiative in alleviating this epidemic. Carnegie Mellon has taken a handful of strides such as providing on-campus resources through Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS), making the Mindfulness Room available for students, and hosting Paws to Relax every Wednesday.
Even then, the stress culture on campus has undeniably negatively affected a significant proportion of the student population, and the effects of such actions are not felt as strongly as one would hope.
I am not the first person to say this, nor will I be the last: there is no cure to stress culture.
Stress itself is not inherently bad. The Yerkes-Dodson Law shows that having either too little stress or having excessive amounts of stress diminishes one’s performance and a moderate amount of stress — the “sweet spot” — can actually lead to optimal performance. Stress gives us the incentive to reach our full potential and to accomplish what we do. However, when students turn this stress into a competition where they try to reach a status based on minimal hours of sleep and amount of credits per semester, we reach the polar opposite end of the spectrum. Students stop taking care of their physical and mental well-being, thus diminishing their potential performance. Their heart is no longer in the work; their heart is solely in wanting to outperform others.
Unfortunately, self-care is not sunshine and rainbows like it is often made out to be. Neither does it stop at making short-term on-campus treatment more accessible by extending CaPS’ operating hours and opening an additional location, although that is undeniably a big step in the right direction. However, the new move for open dialogue around mental health is an effort worth noting and one that may lead us closer to finding a better environment that can challenge students but ensure that they put their physical and mental well-being as their top priorities.