COLUMN: The Elephant In The Room

From the “hot girls” at the Plex to the Chobani and grilled chicken “BC biddy diet,” there’s no denying the elephant in the room. Labeled as one of the most physically fit and attractive universities in the country, Boston College definitely has some food and body image issues on its plate. For many BC students, the rigorous academic competition and expectations extend out of the classroom and into the dining halls and the Plex in striving to uphold the perfect exterior. This certainly doesn’t hold true for all, but it’s clear that this is a weighted topic on campus.

In response, the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) has launched some resourceful campaigns and programs to address the issue of nutrition and body image on campus. For example, “Nourish,” a new campaign advocating for healthy eating habits to help students “overcome the barriers to eating well at college,” is co-sponsored by BC Dining Services. In addition to this campaign, at this year’s Health-a-Palooza, OHP promoted many of its other health campaigns addressing alcohol safety, stress management, and healthy sleep habits.

I’m psyched to see that BC and OHP are taking steps to draw attention to such prevalent health issues as eating disorders, but I’ve noticed a substantial gap. Something has been missing, has gone unnoticed, and, for the most part, unaddressed: What about counseling services?

Just looking at the facts, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. Now, mental illness has a broad spectrum that I feel people often forget. Not everyone with a “diagnosable mental illness” is hearing voices or twerking with a foam finger or certifiably insane by any means. It could be obsessive-compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. It could be something as debilitating as depression.

Another staggering statistic from the American College Health Association made my heart break: more than 80 percent of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year and 45 percent have felt things were helpless. I know what you’re thinking: no kidding-I’m overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have to do the second I get out of bed in the morning, but that’s the way it is. Valid point. Valid point. As college students we are constantly being challenged and pushing our limits to take advantage of everything that the “best four years of your life” have to offer. But that 45 percent of us who “have felt things were helpless” is what kills me. What kills me even more is that students who fall within this 45 percent don’t really know where to go at BC for help or guidance.

I believe this is a common trend in our society as well as at BC specifically. It is so easy for overwhelmed students to simply say “everything’s fine” because it’s less complicated than going through the hassle of dealing with what’s really going on. During my time at BC with so many high-achieving students, I have found a tendency for my peers (and myself included) to brush off any underlying issues, trying to preserve this image that everything is always fine. But sometimes it’s not, and maybe it’s scary to face that you need help. It’s even scarier when you don’t even know where to go. Think back to freshman year-on a practical level, you were probably most nervous about not knowing where Fulton or Cushing or (dare I say it) Carney was.

Just so we all know: University Counseling Services is located on the basement level of Gasson. Unfortunately, though, it’s more than just the poorly publicized location that keeps students from reaching out for help. NIMH reported that concern of stigma is the number one reason students do not seek help. As I understand it, this stigma encompasses the belief that mental illness directly correlates with crazy, insane, dysfunctional, etc. This is where, I think, OHP could come in and work harder to change the status quo of mental illness and counseling services on campus. We can make this change, too. It’s clear that other hot topic issues like body image and nutrition are being appropriately exposed and discussed, and that’s fantastic. As someone who generally has a lot to say, I’m all about a good conversation and dialogue. So I challenge you to acknowledge another elephant in the room-the one that hasn’t really had its turn yet.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.