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Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness: Spotlighting “If You’re Reading This BC”

In August of 2021, Boston College launched its chapter of the mental health-focused organization, If You’re Reading This, in an effort to expand campus conversations about personal well-being. 

If You're Reading This officially describes itself as “a mental health resource that hosts letters of support from students, faculty, and alumni.” Currently, twelve U.S. colleges, including BC, have joined the organization and maintain their own section of IYRT’s website, as well as an Instagram page. Each week, every chapter will post an open letter written by a member of its community, always beginning with the trademark phrase, “If you’re reading this…” Every letter speaks to the personal experiences of the author, regarding mental health, body dysmorphia, stress, career anxiety, and everything in between. Often, the letter is accompanied by a photograph of the author, which allows readers to understand the true feelings behind the face that they may recognize from their campus. 

Those struggling with their mental health tend to struggle to take the first step in opening up about their feelings with friends and/or professionals, therefore IYRT hopes to provide a space in which help comes forward first. “ seeks to have friends come forward first and share that responsibility of being vulnerable,” the website explains. “We shouldn’t have all of the hard work be on the side of the disempowered position. functions to close the gap between students with mental illness and the people that care about them. This is a place where we come forward to show our support first.” 

IYRT was founded in 2016 at the University of Virginia by Alexandra Pentel, who believed that shallow social media campaigns, as well as the lack of deeper connections in professional counseling, were not enough to end the negative connotation surrounding mental health. As the IYRT website operated as a means of sharing genuine struggles and vulnerabilities in the UVA community, more universities began joining the organization. This led to Boston College’s enrollment in 2021, thanks to Meghan Doherty and Madison Walsh. Currently, BC’s chapter of IYRT is open to all members of the community to submit a letter—no official registration or membership is required. 

“Writing a letter for IYRT offered me a new and unique approach to sharing my personal story with mental illness and the impact it has had in my life, while providing me with a platform to amplify the voices of those who may be feeling alone in their own struggles with mental health,” says Sarah Buckley (CSON ‘22), who wrote a letter in October 2021. “It also allowed me to face some of my trauma and offer a space of healing and solidarity with other sexual assault survivors; the act of writing the letter itself was extremely therapeutic. Given the outpouring of support I received after the letter was posted, it shows just how strong of an impact that the organization can have. Hearing that other people resonate with aspects of your story really makes you realize that you’re not alone in whatever you are going through.” 

The amount of stigma associated with mental illness at BC has felt as though it has been on the rise, especially given the seemingly endless onslaught of COVID-based anxieties and stressful world events. When BC students are expected to simultaneously maintain high academic performances, involved social lives, and an outwardly perfect self-image, their mental health is pushed to the sidelines, opening the floodgates for toxic mindsets to take control. By putting a name and a personal struggle to a face, IYRT BC reminds community members that not everyone is as put-together as they may seem on the outside, and that it is okay to come forward with your vulnerabilities—especially when, by doing so, you are reminding others that they are not alone. 

“We hope to cultivate a community where people can read letters (and even contact the authors if they choose) and resonate with each unique message that the authors wish to put forth,” continues Buckley. “The organization ultimately strives to validate and empower by encouraging readers to find solace in the fact that they are not alone, since mental illness and trauma are often isolating. I truly believe that if our work continues to spread at the pace that it currently is, we will have an immeasurably widespread impact, and that is something so special.” 

BC undoubtedly faces an uphill battle in terms of creating more mental health resources available to students. With limited counselors available at University Counseling Services in comparison to nearly 15,000 students, mental health assistance often feels inaccessible, furthering the damaging mentality that individuals can help themselves on their own. While BC certainly needs to take a hard look at its approach to providing official mental health resources to the student body, independent organizations like IYRT help counseling-like services feel more accessible; with one step—and one letter—at a time, a healthier wellness culture at BC becomes more reachable.

IYRT BC’s letters are available to be read on the BC page of the organization’s official website, which can be found here.

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MCAS '25 English & Sociology major who loves rainy days, pumpkin spice, commentary YouTube, and animated shows perhaps a little too much. Probably chugging La Croix while watching the Boston Bruins as you're reading this. (she/her)