I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK—and It’s OK

Posting secrets for all to see is part of a student-led effort to talk about mental health issues on campus

A poor grade, a breakup or a snub from a friend can be more upsetting than college students want to admit to themselves—or to others.

And in a campus setting, it is particularly easy to think you are the only one feeling sad or lonely or inadequate, according to Tufts seniors Lindsay Eckhaus and Jake Borodovsky.

So they set up a mysterious box that was front and center at the Tisch Library circulation desk for several weeks at the end of this semester, part of a program called PostSecret. It worked like this: You take a blank postcard and return it with words and drawings expressing your deepest secret—all anonymously.

During the week of Dec. 12 , the collected postcards—more than 90 of them—were on display at Tisch in the hallway leading to the Tower Café. The point? You are not alone.

“By displaying the postcards, we hoped people would see them and realize, ‘Yeah, I can relate to that, I’ve felt that way,’ and realize there are emotions that everyone shares,” says Eckhaus, a biopsychology major.

The secrets cover a wide range, from the serious to the lighthearted:

“When I walk around campus, I wonder if people who look at me are attracted to me. This possibility terrifies me.”   

“Sometimes I eat fruit rollups and Diet Coke for breakfast.”

PostSecret is just one program of the Tufts chapter of Active Minds, a national organization committed to creating more dialogue about and awareness of mental health issues on college campuses. Eckhaus was one of the co-founders of the Tufts chapter in the spring of 2009. Borodovsky joined in his sophomore year and later became co-president.

“I became interested because everyone deals with their mental health on a daily basis, but there is a lot of stigma attached to talking about it, which I really don’t understand,” Eckhaus says. “Our chapter’s mission is to help people be more open and get help if they need it—and not be afraid of being judged.”

Borodovsky, a psychology major, traces his own involvement in Active Minds to his difficult freshman year.

“Really, I joined the group to learn about the extent to which mental health issues affected all college students and what I could do to help other students who were going through what I had just gone through,” he says. “Everyone in the group was so chill and non-judgmental, it made me wonder why no one had told me before that other students had similar experiences.”

Both Eckhaus and Borodovsky agree that the disparity between how college life is portrayed and how things actually are can be difficult to deal with.

“There is an unspoken expectation that in college you are supposed to be having the time of your life, and you just feel worse when you are not,” says Borodovsky. “I got a lot of pre-college advice on academics, but no one talked about psychological issues.”

For students at Tufts and other top-tier colleges, those emotional issues are compounded by the need to excel.

“People here are so driven that they put a lot of pressure on themselves,” Eckhaus says. “Everyone wants to be the best and do really well in their classes, so they generate a lot of stress.”

Tufts Active Minds holds regular small group meetings, where the talk can be casual but also about planning events and ideas for the chapter in the future. Once a semester, a Tufts representative meets with a regional coordinator of Active Minds to share ideas and consider new project possibilities.

Among those that have been launched at Tufts already is The Grapevine, the official blog of Active Minds, where postings range from sober to humorous: “How can I be expected to study for finals when all I really want to do is sing and dance?” one asks.

“We encourage just random quirky things you might be thinking during the day, but it’s also fine to share serious concerns,” Eckhaus says. The group painted the canon on the quad to promote their blog during National Mental Health Awareness Week in October.

And Borodovsky, working with Michelle Bowdler, director of Tufts Health Services, and others, has just completed a documentary featuring student interviews about mental health issues at Tufts. It will be shown during freshman orientation.

“Long after we have graduated, it will continue to affect people year after year,” Borodovsky says. “Even if it only impacts one freshman who gets here and realizes there are other people who made it through the same difficult things, I will feel we made a difference.”

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.

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