Al-Salem ’17: Depressed, not homesick

Opinions Columnist
Sunday, January 25, 2015

When Robin Williams died in 2014, many people began to reassess how to diagnose and treat mental disorders. The idea that a comedic legend was battling depression disturbed a lot of people because depression had a “status quo” look that Williams did not match. He had a successful career, supportive family, dedicated fans and an ever-present sense of humor. He did not fit the stereotype of people with depression who struggle to get out of bed every morning or are disconnected from the rest of society.

We often overlook mental disorder because it is an intangible illness. When someone is physically ill, the sympathy comes pouring in because the observer has proof of an ailment. When someone is mentally ill, some respond by saying, “You know, some people are dealing with real issues.”

This is especially difficult when people dealing with depression are aware of their privilege and better-than-terrible circumstances. People do not choose to be so depressed that they can’t get out of bed while children are dying somewhere across the globe. They don’t want the guilt of feeling like they don’t deserve to feel sad. People with mental illness do not need to be reminded that there are others who have it worse. They know this well enough on their own.

Mental disorders are not treated any better on college campuses. For the thousands of 20-somethings dealing with the challenges of being a college student, depression and anxiety get pegged as symptoms of “finals week,” “work overload” or “homesickness.” Mental disorders are rarely addressed as serious conditions that require attention.

When students with mental disorders confide in others, they are often dismissed by those who say they sympathize while lacking real understanding of living with a diagnosis like depression or anxiety. If you feel especially down after coming back from winter or summer break, you are told you are just homesick.

I cannot emphasize enough how obstructive a statement like this can be when someone is battling depression, because it discourages people from seeking help and frequently underestimates the severity of the problem.

Homesickness is a momentary feeling of distress from being away from familiar places and people. But it does not impede your social life and work. You are able to function without feeling a constant weight on your chest. You can acknowledge that sadness will soon pass, and you are able to move on.

When you are depressed, you do not see a way out. When you come back from a place like home, depression can be worsened because you are faced with all the responsibilities of life that you cannot manage to do yourself. The stress of failing worsens the bleakness you already feel. If someone reaches out to you about it, listen and understand. Do not downplay it as a passing emotion.

In some cases, when Brown students with mental illness seek help, they get redirected to Counseling and Psychological Services. Unfortunately, I believe CAPS aggravates the problem. It is challenging to schedule timely appointments, because a response might come three weeks later. When you ask if there is any possibility of scheduling an earlier appointment, you get a prompt “no.”

Therefore, many hang up feeling worse than they did before calling. The one place that should understand and help often cannot. And while I understand that CAPS is understaffed and doing what it can, it is not trying hard enough. The dangers of mental disorders can do the most damage to students who are drilled to be independent and self-sufficient. Every aspect of students’ lives can be a thin line between ordinary stress and something really debilitating, but it is important to try to evaluate and understand the difference.

While mental disorders — whether depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder — are not altogether curable, they can be treated. Everything from outlook on life to performance in school can be improved tenfold if both college students and those battling these issues reevaluated what it means to have a mental illness. We must help each other to help ourselves.


  1. Can'tBelieveIt says:

    People with mental illnesses apparently are apparently “aware of their privilege.” Brown students are finding all kinds of new lows.

    • cantbelieveyou says:

      ??? in the context of the writing she obviously meant that some people with mental disorders don’t have it as typically rough as a child dying of war…

  2. The issue with CAPS ultimately comes down to the administration (lol, typical). It just doesn’t allot enough money to CAPS. Don’t ask me how they manage to spend more money hiring people to crack down on drinking but can’t afford more resources.

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