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Helen Geckle / Gavel Media

Mental Health Help At BC Is Dripping In Performative Wellness

Don’t get me wrong, I love the O'Neill therapy dogs during final exams as much as anyone else, but is that really the ultimate solution for students’ stress? But oh, don’t fret, we also have massages during finals, because dogs and massages solve everything!

There is a culture of performative wellness at Boston College; there are all sorts of activities and resources that are aimed at mental, emotional, and physical health, but a lack of any true means for students to get the help and support they need. Need a mental health day? That’ll impact your attendance and participation grade. Feeling rundown and sickness coming on? You can’t zoom into classes anymore, so just push through whatever you’re feeling. 

The BC Health and Wellness website is populated with pictures of students and staff, and safety resources–such as fire safety and environmental scientific safety, then sprinkled with resources of substance such as SANet and University Counseling Services. When I think of health and wellness, I tend to not think of fire safety. The section specifically focused on mental health is embedded in the “Journey to Wellness.” I was recently made aware that BC established its branch dedicated to mental health only this academic year. Prior to the 2022-2023 school year, there was no administrative department for mental health. It is a positive and important accomplishment, but why was this only just established? Mental health has always been an important issue, but it seems it has just come onto BC’s radar. 

Within the mental health section, the “Our Philosophy” section heading the page reads: “We encourage students to prioritize their basic needs, connect with supports, and practice their own brand of self-care that makes their body, mind, and soul feel best, even if that’s taking five minutes for themselves.” Even in its introduction to its mental health page, BC suggests simply taking only five minutes for ourselves to solve our mental health issues. If mental health issues were solved within five minutes, they wouldn’t exist. If a five minute reset helps you, that’s wonderful and you should continue to do what works best for you. However, marketing a five minute solution as the first accessible information to students perpetuates a toxic and trivial environment and may discredit students’ mental health issues. Chances are, mental health issues will not be solved with a five minute break. 

BC also markets and pushes the Wellness Coaches wherever and however they can within the Health and Wellness websites. It is a great resource and I appreciate student wellness coaches’ dedication to  providing support for BC students. Talking to another student may also be less intimidating for someone who has no experience with therapy or feels intimidated by it, so talking to someone who knows the experience and is the same age might feel more doable. However, they are students, ages 18-22, with limited training and experience in this field. They know the BC experience, but everyone’s experience is different. They may be biased in conversations because they attend the same school, may have mutual friends (or enemies), heard rumors, or whatever it may be. I don’t intend to discount these students, but I think their ability to provide resources can only go so far due to their lack of professional standing.

Seeing potential issues here, why not turn to University Counseling Services? You can see a therapist only after you schedule a triage phone appointment where they choose your treatment recommendation. Even after you see said therapist, you may have a different therapist for your next session. On top of that, UCS only allows for short-term individual therapy which limits the number of sessions a student can attend, and once you max out you’re forced to stop treatment, or find an off-campus therapist which is its own monster with insurance coverage. 

Students' experience with mental health issues is also compounded by the toxic food and body image culture. BC also still lacks an on-campus nutritionist, which may further impair students struggling with eating disorders. I think the toxic body image culture is felt or at least known by all BC students. The Gavel has plenty of articles about the Plex culture–How the Toxic Plex Culture Fuels Body Image Issues and Commodification and Cults: How Fitness Culture has Become Incredibly Exclusive. These sentiments are also echoed on Herrd, where many students note the intimidation of going to the Plex as a new gym-goer. As a Plex goer myself, I see the toxic culture first-hand; girls wearing biker shorts and sports bras, and then guys who are on Creatine and who only eat beef and rice for “the gains.” The third floor of the Plex is also notorious for being the “guys floor,” so this itself is a deterrent for anyone who is already not the most confident in their gym journey. It creates a sense that guys have to get bigger and girls have to get smaller through their exercise and diet. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Plex and think working out is a great stress reliever and a way to time to take for yourself, but the culture needs to shift to be more inclusive and focused on health and wellness. 

BC certainly has resources for students, but they should be presented in a more transparent manner and be more easily accessible. A massage and cute dogs can be nice as a short-term stress reliever and a serotonin boost, but they do not solve the core mental health issues students are likely struggling with. There should be a larger emphasis on the importance of prioritizing your health and wellness in all capacities–physical, mental, and emotional. Some professors recognize the stress and pressure of college and allow for mental health days as an excused absence, but this is the exception, not the general rule. There is definitely a monetary restriction when it comes to providing more resources for students, but BC should make it a priority as students and their overall wellbeing should be recognized as the most important component of the university. 

Here’s a list of some on and off-campus resources for students:

  • Center for Student Wellness: Resource hub dedicated to helping you care for your mind, body, and soul; includes the student wellness coaches which help develop goals and strategies for 12 domains of health. Programs also include alcohol and drug education, general health and wellness coaching, and mental health and wellness.  
  • Health and Wellness: Comprehensive health, wellness and safety services can help with your physical and emotional needs; includes University Counseling Services, University Health Services, and BCPD. 
    • University Counseling Services: Same-day help for urgent personal crises and psychological emergencies, focused on crisis management. Triage phone calls to figure out what treatment is most appropriate such as short-term individual therapy at UCS, group therapy at UCS, off campus treatment, or other campus resources.
  • SANet (Sexual Assault Network): To support those who have been directly or indirectly affected by sexual violence and/or intimate partner violence. Composed of the SANet Advocate team and the SANet CARE team. 
  • On-Campus Club Active Minds: A leading nonprofit organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health in order to educate others and encourage help-seeking.
  • Lean On Me BC: Anonymous, non-crisis, 24/7 peer support. 
  • An additional off-campus resource is the BC chapter of If You’re Reading This, which is a mental health resource that posts letters of support from students. The website has an entire page dedicated to resources at BC and in the greater Boston area; it provides a range of support and avenues for students to get help based on their needs.
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International studies major who's obsessed with dogs and coffee