In the May 5, 2017 issue of The Bowdoin Orient, Bowdoin Counseling Service published an ad featuring the headline “Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay: Questions to ask before giving up.”
The list, which was discovered to be ripped off from a Tumblr post, poses a list of 16 pithy questions that, apparently, one should consider before following through with whatever “giving up” is a euphemism for (self harm? suicide?).
The advertisement appears to be Counseling’s woefully misguided attempt to provide students with tips for dealing with the stress of impending finals; instead, it reads as a list of strategies to deal with mental illness or suicidal ideation. The fact that this “message from Bowdoin Counseling” ran alongside a cover story about the Counseling Service’s struggle to keep up with increased student demand only amplifies how tone deaf, belittling and out of touch it is. To assume a tongue-in-cheek and flippant tone about “giving up” is not only incredibly insensitive, but perpetuates a dangerous rhetoric whereby mental illness is stigmatized as a personal shortcoming resulting from a failure to properly take care of oneself. The ad reads as a deterrent, a way of filtering out students who may be rightfully seeking Counseling and a way to make struggling students second guess if they are really worthy of Counseling’s time.
I’m not sure which piece of advice is most troubling. The recommendation that students try snacking on “some nuts and hummus”? The groundbreaking insight that a change in medication “may be screwing with your head”? The inspiring proposal that someone struggling with body image should “take a goddamn selfie”? Perhaps the most exhilarating advice is to “drive to a big box store (e.g. Target) and go on a brisk walk through the aisles you normally skip.” Personally, this sounds like a way of inducing a spell of depression rather than alleviating one, but I digress.
The number of students seeking counseling at Bowdoin increased from 17.5% in 2007 to 26% in 2017. I am not ignorant to the challenge this poses the Counseling Service. I am also not ignorant to what it is like to be a student dealing with mental health issues at Bowdoin. What is ignorant (and patronizing, and bizarre) is this advertisement. I am disappointed, but perhaps if I “jog to the length of an EDM song” or “wear something special” as Bowdoin Counseling advises, I’ll get over it.
Sophie de Bruijn is a member of the Class of 2018