Students moving into their dorms each year are faced with familiar questions: Should they curate the perfect display of photos featuring the optimal balance of high school friends, family and travel experiences? Or perhaps their time is better spent compiling posters to display alternative music choices and civil engagement. Some may eschew these considerations to focus on finding the perfect mattress to ensure that they get their eight hours of sleep.
These questions have implications for students’ well-being, as living spaces can considerably impact their mental health, according to several students interviewed by The Herald. Though Brown has the reputation of being the “chillest” Ivy with the “happiest” students, mental health issues and their stigmatization remain a pervasive challenge confronting students.
Of the many elements of a room, students find lighting to be an essential component of a healthy living space. Dara Bernstein ’18 remarked that the “overhead light” in her Champlin Hall room made her feel as though she was “living in a hospital.” After moving to an off-campus location, where she employs a carefully chosen mix of lamps and even a lavender oil diffuser, she has noticed that her mood has improved.
For many students, Providence weather can also adversely affect mental health. One senior, who requested anonymity to discuss his challenges with mental health, said he has struggled with seasonal affective disorder. To combat SAD, he uses a specific type of light, which he credits with diminishing symptoms during the winter. On the other hand, Francie Holte ’19 and Talia Curhan ’20 pointed out their need for darker rooms, explaining that this lack of light helps them relax.
Students interviewed expressed a wide range of motivations behind choosing their room decorations, creating different environments in the process. Isabel Blalock ’18 said she chooses decorations that add familiarity to her space, such as art painted by friends and other “eclectic finds” from thrift stores. Blalock has discarded specific decorations she associates with darker times living in “the dormitory cell that is” the Graduate Center, she added.
Holte also said she hangs art painted by her sister and other decorations that remind her of her home in California. Since moving into her new apartment, she feels as though she can effectively escape from the “bubble” of Brown that can be “suffocating” at times, she added. Holte has experienced a newfound ability to “reset” in her room that was lost while living in Keeney Quadrangle and Harkness House, she added. Even though Holte’s off-campus housing is in a basement, she has created a homey environment by being aware that her physical space affects her mental space.
Another senior, who requested anonymity to discuss her challenges with mental health, reflected on her negative experience living in the “dungeon” of Grad Center. Because her anxiety was exacerbated by physical conditions at the time, she developed a reliance on substances. After moving off-campus and taking control of the preparation of her own food, she has felt an overall improvement in her mental health, she said.
Buying a new lamp or adding a brightly colored duvet will not cure a mental illness, but students noted that awareness of their personal space allowed them to make beneficial changes to improve their mental health.