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Authentic Eagles: Mark Kindschuh on Ending the Stigma

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Mark Kindschuh, MCAS '19

The Story I Never Told

My name is Mark Kindschuh. I’m 21 years old, from Brooklyn, NY and on Monday I will be graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences. Like thousands of students, over the past few days I have been glued to social media, procrastinating several papers and other final assignments. In the midst of my scrolling, I noticed an unusual number of posts about mental health issues, followed by the hashtag, #endthestigma.

Within a few clicks I discovered that since 1949, May has officially been recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, Instagram even teamed up with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise awareness about mental health issues. While I’m glad social media successfully made me aware of May’s important designation, I felt ashamed that without it, I probably would not have realized.

I thought for a moment and struggled to recall the last time I even had a conversation on campus about mental health. I resolved that I must do more to help end the stigma myself. Mental health issues have significantly impacted my life, and I realized that contributing my voice to the conversation might encourage others to do the same.

Many of you have probably heard the story about a Boston College student assisting one of the victims of the June 2017 terror attacks in London, England. But if not, here’s the abbreviated version: While I was sitting at a pub in London during a summer study abroad program, four loud successive blasts rung out. My experiences as an ROTC cadet have made me intimately familiar with the sound of gunshots, so I immediately recognized the blasts as such. Complete chaos ensued. Everyone in the bar dove below their tables for cover and a crowd poured in from the street.

Among the crowd, stumbling, was a man who had inadvertently been shot in the head during the crossfire. In a split second, I saw blood pooling near his head and my training kicked in. If the flow was not staunched, I knew the man might die. Along with a bartender, I put pressure on the wound by applying a belt as a tourniquet. Within eight minutes, the police killed the terrorists and the victim was rushed to surgery by EMTs.

In the morning, I awoke to the incredible news that the man had survived the Borough Market attacks, perhaps in large part because of our desperate efforts.

After speaking to the press about my experiences, the outpouring of support I received on social media was immediate, humbling, and at the same time somewhat overwhelming. But none of this is the point of this piece. It can be tempting when stories of courage and compassion emerge in the midst of tragedy to focus solely on the positives—on the action taken and the impact it had. But beneath the surface, there was a part of my story that I was too afraid to tell—that I was an emotional wreck struggling to come to terms with what I had seen and felt.

My survivor's guilt was immediate. I struggled to sleep at night, imagining hypotheticals like: What if our table had been closer to the windows, which were shattered by ricocheting bullets? What if the bartender had not locked the restaurant’s front door? What if I had been standing outside when the terrorists stormed the block? The questions were endless, and the memories hovered in the back of my brain for nearly two years.

That I needed help seems obvious now. But I was at first prideful, and deeply worried about the stigma of admitting that I was struggling with post-traumatic stress. Worse yet, I worried that seeking help would be perceived as a cry for attention. On top of this, I reasoned that seeking help was a sign of weakness, that acknowledging the full extent of the problem I faced represented a symbolic victory for the men who had attacked Borough Market that night. Thus, I resolved to overcome the trauma on my own. I only told four close friends about how I truly felt, and even kept things hidden from my own parents.

But in March of this year, I stumbled across a year-old Players Tribune article by Clint Malarchuk, the former NHL goalkeeper notorious for having miraculously survived getting slashed in the throat by a skate blade. The quintessential hockey player, upon being carted into an ambulance, incredibly asked EMTs whether he’d be able to make it back in time for the third period.

Malarchuk struggled for years with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and eventually attempted suicide. He was fortunate enough to survive both close calls, and his experience inspired him to become an advocate for mental health awareness. He used the platform to tell his story and teach athletes and fans alike about the importance of recognizing and treating serious mental health problems.

Like many others, Clint’s story inspired me. When I finished reading it, I gave my parents a phone call. I opened up at length for the first time about the thoughts and feelings I had been having every day since that chaotic night. The next morning, I scheduled an appointment with a psychologist through the university. To this day, arranging that appointment was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. But it was also the most rewarding one.

Over the remainder of this semester, I've continued to meet with a therapist. I quickly learned that the first step towards self-healing was admitting that everything wasn’t okay—that my experiences had changed me. Although I dealt with many of the symptoms of PTSD, I was fortunate to avoid a full-fledged diagnosis. I’ve since stopped having appointments as regularly but know that if I ever have to go back to them, there’s no shame in that.

Next month I’m going back to London on a post-grad trip with some of my closest friends. I plan on grabbing a drink at the Wheatsheaf, the pub where my life changed forever, for better or worse. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. This is more than just preaching; I speak from experience.

As a society, let’s end the stigma surrounding mental health issues. If you think you might have one, opt to address it. If you suspect a friend might be struggling, check in on them. You will be doing yourself, your friends, and your family a major service.