October 17, 2019

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Sometimes Understanding Is Not Enough

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To the Editor:

A recent column titled “Why I’m Choosing Not To Seek Professional Mental Health Care” worried me greatly. I respect the writer’s ability to make her own choices, but I am writing to disagree vehemently with the article’s argument that lack of personal responsibility is the cause of mental illness.

In ambiguously referencing “mental health” without defining her usage of the term, the author failed to make the distinction between transient mental health struggles, such as being stressed at one point, and an ongoing chronic disease, such as generalized anxiety, depression or seasonal affective disorder. There is a difference here, and it’s not negligible. The article suggests that things like “a call, an emptied afternoon” are all that she has needed in the past to restore balance to her mental health — and it’s great that she is coming to that realization. However, the argument harmfully suggests that if anyone suffering with mental illness can be courageous enough to take their “problems with both hands and feel for what they lack,” then things will magically be okay. This is both untrue and dangerous.

As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, I know that acknowledging the problem was only the first of many steps in a long battle to overcome and live with my disease. If I were to have persisted on my own, citing a lack of personal responsibility as the cause of my suffering and continually pressuring myself to do more for others as I crumbled on the inside, I would probably not be alive today. The reality is, for many people with mental illness, professional help is needed, and it’s not because they lack courage or self-knowledge. In fact, I would argue it is courageous to seek help. The act of admitting you, on your own, are not enough to solve your problems requires laying down your pride and acknowledging weakness. In today’s world this isn’t easy. Cornell’s culture sometimes feels like it expects us all to be superhuman, and others, such as the writer of the article, might even suggest that having a mental illness is a “sin.” As a Christian, I believe that struggling with mental illness is not a sin any more than having any other disease is a sin. At a place like Cornell, vulnerability is scary. Yet, it is also a great act of love — for yourself and for the people around you.

Caroline Hinrichs ’22