If you’ve followed my columns, it’s clear that activism is important to me. However, something is often forgotten in this ongoing fight for social justice — caring for our mental health. Of course, this is not a problem limited to activists, but it’s a part of our activism that we need to talk about.
Organizing, protesting and constantly arguing for your own humanity is taxing. It’s debilitating. There are so many of us who are confronted with people arguing that we’re angry for no reason, that there’s no injustice against our people.
We are constantly told that what we’re fighting for is a lie. And on top of that, we’re also told how we should react to instances of injustice — be peaceful, don’t yell or use curse words, don’t protest in the streets.
At every turn, we are told how to act. At every turn, even when we make some progress, it only gets harder to take the next step. A lot of the time, meaningful action happens in many small steps; steps so small that it’s hard to see that we’ve made any progress in the first place.
It’s a constant struggle, on top of the struggles we already face as people of color and LGBTQ people, and that others face as people in poverty, people with disabilities and the like.
Something we forget as activists is the need to take care of ourselves and each other. A core tenet of many activist organizations is the importance of caring for the community. But we often neglect that caring for a community includes caring for the mental health of the people who make up that community.
Community organization often includes feeding people, taking care of children and youth programs. These are important and undoubtedly necessary, but we also need mental health support groups and more counselors who reflect our own communities. We need to address the huge mental health stigma that’s incredibly prevalent in immigrant communities and communities of color.
We need to watch ourselves as well. I’ll be the first to tell you that sometimes you get so swept up in organizing, wanting to attend a million different meetings and be at a million different protests, that you don’t really take care of yourself. And watching your people get shouted down, attacked and even killed, like the many instances of black people getting killed by police, does something to your mental health that’s hard to explain.
I’ve heard my black friends detail how traumatizing it is to see a new video of a black man getting assaulted or killed by the police on their news feed every day. For me, watching the continued neglect of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and the lack of media coverage about it since it’s “old news,” messes me up mentally.
Though I’ve made it clear that activist communities need to be better at this, the lack of mental health treatment needs to be addressed in many other circles.
In general, all communities could benefit from taking mental health more seriously. College students as a whole have a pretty big problem with depression and anxiety. According to a 2015 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, a survey for college students, 35.3 percent of respondents reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult for them to function, and 57.7 percent indicated feeling overwhelming anxiety. With the winter upon us, it only gets worse due to seasonal affective disorder, or what we all know as seasonal depression.
We, as activists and as students, need to look out for each other. No meaningful action can be taken if the people taking the action aren’t taken care of first. Whether it be urging Binghamton University to take more steps in caring for marginalized groups or turning to community organizations, more needs to be done. And no offense, but therapy dogs, while adorable and a great distraction, don’t do much for us mentally.
Sarah Molano is a junior majoring in English.