Contributing opinion writer
James M. Heffernan
In this column, one thing I have mentioned, but not emphasized enough, is the value of having conversations about mental health. So, when I suddenly remembered that I needed to write the last piece for my column while over at my friend’s house on Sunday evening, I decided to ask the guys I was with a few questions about mental health — feeling like it was an appropriate way to wrap things up. And I learned more than a few things as they answered my questions (perhaps, most notably, how a few drinks could turn them into “surfer-bros”).
Perhaps, as a world, and at institutions such as this university, if the majority of people stopped considering themselves to be completely different than the minority of people with recognized mental disorders, there would be a reduction in exclusionary behavior and an increase in the empathy that reducing this stigma so desperately requires. At the same time, dismantling this binary might convince the “okay” majority to not feel as though their mental health problems are insignificant, encouraging them to seek support.
As difficult as it is to define what self-acceptance is, or what it looks like, we can’t ignore it. Unless we totally reject who we are, we must possess it to some extent. I know it sounds paradoxical, but I don’t believe self-acceptance necessitates complacency — such comfort with your flaws and weaknesses that you resist change. Otherwise, self-acceptance would involve never ironing-out those sixth-grade temper issues. And would involve me guiltlessly dedicating all of my time to Ubering a mustached plumber around a race track.
Under no circumstances should staff and students go the whole semester without any breaks. But because it may be more beneficial for your mental health to use these days productively rather than to abstain from working, this consequence of wellness days is exactly that. Looking ahead to the fall semester, I encourage the FAS to reconsider what wellness means and what’s the best way of engendering it. If they take a similar approach, it should be their priority to create a culture around break days that is supportive and conducive to abstaining from work.
People should be defined by their characteristics, not by how these characteristics contribute to or infringe upon a person’s adherence to gender-based expectations. Being nurturing shouldn’t make a man less of a man because it contradicts the traits assigned to masculinity; it should just make him a nurturing person. And if a man cries, that shouldn’t make him less of a man; it should make him a real human being. Otherwise, I’d have stopped being a man 16 re-watches of Gladiator ago.
Life also only gets messier, and the sooner you can surround yourself with people who are willing to go the extra mile for you, to speak with you late at night, to shoot the shit with you, the better. A while ago my best mate reached out to me when he noticed something was wrong. Instead of doing something reckless, I spent the rest of the day with him eating extra-spicy fried chicken and talking things out. If any one moment illustrated to me the value of having people to support you, it was then.
Many people won’t feel they have the time to add something new to their schedule. But I promise this effort is worth it. When you find the right “hobby,” you add something to your life that isn’t about the relentless pursuit of improving yourself or achieving something, goals I think comprise a large portion of our time as Harvard students.