I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago to see that the most read article in The Herald was entitled “Why therapy is cool.” At last, I thought, somebody agrees with me!
Then I read the article.
Unfortunately, Cara Dorris’ ’15 column expressed only more ignorance in the face of mental illness. While purportedly condemning the stigmatization of mental illness, Dorris perpetuates common negative stereotypes about mental disorders and expresses herself with the witlessness of someone who did her research by watching Girls and other popular TV shows.
Dorris characterizes Brown students who seek therapy as vapid, neurotic creatures approaching therapy like “yoga or getting a massage or drinking Odwalla juice.” Much like harem pants or the latest adorable baby video on Youtube, seeking treatment for emotional pain is now apparently “trendy!” And when those who seek therapy speak openly about psychological treatment, Dorris condemns them as “devaluing” mental illness.
I don’t know any of these mythical students who yak on about their mental illness. In my experience, students who attend therapy do so quietly, avoiding eye contact as they head to the fifth floor of J. Walter Wilson. Students are often ashamed of going to therapy. They feel weak. Those who “joke” about it often are using humor as a defense mechanism. I know I do.
As somebody who grew up with chronic depression and anxiety, I would love nothing more than peers who spoke about therapy as if it were just another visit to a general practitioner. As a kid, I would crack jokes about my obvious and pervasive anxiety to hide the reality of my hyperactive monkey-mind. My friends jokingly called me “The Captain of Starship Neurotica” – which hurt, but not as much as what I secretly believed to be true: I was probably crazy and inherently unlovable.
Imagine my relief to find people at Brown whose minds worked like mine, who not only went to therapy but could talk and joke about it! I’ve come to the realization that depression, anxiety and all other mental illnesses should be treated as exactly what they are: illnesses. If a student gets any other illness, say the flu – or something more chronic, like diabetes – Dorris would never ridicule them for seeking medical attention or treatment. A depressed person does not decide to become depressed any more than a diabetic chooses to be ill. And like a diabetic, a sufferer of depression or any other mental illness must get treatment – therapy and perhaps medication.
Students seeking help in Brown Psychological Services have the equivalent of a mental cold. And when a Brown student feels sick, they go to Health Services. I don’t see the difference here.
Psych Services has its fair share of issues, but the counseling service they provide is invaluable. Dorris seems to think it ridiculous that 16 to 18 percent of the Brown student body have sought treatment for mental health issues. Actually, the number should be higher. A 2009 National Institute of Mental Health study reported that 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” About 6 percent of college students reported seriously considering suicide, and one percent reported attempting it in the previous year. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in people age 15 to 24.
In other words, Dorris’ therapy tirade is not only silly: It is irresponsible and dangerous.
With every sentence in her column, Dorris underscores the depth of her ignorance about mental illness. She asserts that therapy is never-ending “unless your therapist hangs himself Silverman-style, and the journey finally ends. Or you die.” Disregarding her insensitivity, this statement is completely misinformed: A qualified therapist can often bestow valuable coping mechanisms and strategies in under a year. Treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have been empirically proven to reduce symptoms of many mental illnesses – and they don’t take an eternity.
Despite her psychological illiteracy, Dorris loves to write about mental illness. Less than a month ago she wrote a piece about eating disorders (“What’s the skinny on Brown fat?” Oct. 14). Dorris began by noting the abhorrent lack of awareness about eating disorders at Brown – a real issue – but quickly degenerated into a lecture about the dangers of shunning food. She joked that writing about eating disorders made her want a “snack,” while offering no real solutions for a pervasive problem at Brown. She basically advised anorexics and bulimics to simply eat more cheeseburgers. Ironically, one of the main treatments for eating disorders is – you guessed it – therapy.
The cherry on top of Dorris’ offensive mess of an article is the assertion that “normal” people do not seek therapy. Therapy is only for us weirdos, I guess. Count me in as an abnormal, Dorris, as well as a fifth of the Brown population.
Uninformed, black-and-white articles are often among the most controversial and popular in The Herald. But when it comes to a subject as serious and nuanced as mental illness, do your research – or stick to writing snarky comments in diatribes about the Ratty.
Cara Newlon ’14.5 will be happy to laugh, joke and talk about her therapy at