On March 15 of this year, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) launched a video series entitled Real Stories of Leaders at Their Best to help our campus see day-to-day examples of mental health and resilience. CAPS in Action, the student group of CAPS, was the driving force behind this effort.
A striking degree of intimacy is achieved in these short videos–each of the U-M students shares their mental health story directly into the camera, and they each broadcast simultaneously honest, painful, and encouraging messages.
We at Rackham wanted to go behind the scenes and speak to some of the graduate students featured in this series: What did it mean to them to contribute to this project? What did they think about participating, and what has happened since?
An Unexpected Source of Strength
Watch Ricky's video here.
Ricky Granderson, a Master’s of Public Health student, wasn’t inclined to contribute his story, until a friend told him that “there were very few men who had participated in the project at that point. After a thorough discussion of the ways in which hegemonic masculinity often prevents men – particularly men of color – from being willing to be vulnerable enough to discuss mental health openly, I knew I had to do my part and participate.”
Afterwards, Ricky revisited the series to watch his own video, and it had an unexpected effect: “At the time I filmed the video I was in a pretty good place, but when the campaign actually went live I was in a completely different state of mind. I was stressed, not sleeping well, had been having medication adherence difficulties – just not in a good place at all. So when I initially saw that the video went live, my social anxiety kicked in and I immediately started ruminating about what people would think and catastrophizing, but then people reached out to me and told me that my story helped them and that I was brave for being willing to share my story – the support really shook me out of the bad place I was in. When I finally did decide to watch my video, seeing myself in a good place and handling everything and being willing to be open made me remember that I am capable of all those things and made me want to strive for them. I am heading in the right direction again – and it’s partially because of my own video!”
Supporting Yourself While Supporting Others
Watch Stephanie's video here.
Stephanie Sayler, a Rackham Master’s student in Environmental Health Science, saw this video series as an opportunity to continue the work she had been doing in her own life to destigmatize mental health and make connections with others: “Since I spent a long time feeling alienated by my mother's mental illness and had eventually realized that I was far from alone, I wanted to help other individuals who may take comfort in knowing that a lot of people deal with similar situations.” Stephanie commented that self care is an essential part of caring for others and that maintaining one’s health “often includes the burdens that we bear with our friends and family. Feeling comfortable with discussing mental health and not feeling ashamed can help ensure that we all get the care that we need.”
The Universality of Mental Health in Graduate School
Watch Emily's video here.
Emily Rakosi, a student in the Master’s of Social Work program, reflected on the videos created by others: “What stands out to me the most is the universality of experience that is conveyed by all of these different testimonies. In my opinion, one of the most terrible aspects of mental illness is its isolating nature. I hope that all of us that gave testimony and everyone who has watched the videos recognizes that they are never, ever alone.”
In each of our Q&As, the participants spoke to the particular situation of maintaining good mental health in graduate school. Emily offers empathy and advice for fellow graduate students: “Graduate school is hard. Really. Everyone is stressed almost all of the time. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help in processing your stress, anxiety, and/or depression. In fact, we all need to be more responsible for our mental health. It should come before anything else in our lives. You really can't function without it. So, take care of yourself, grad students! You are entitled to free therapy at CAPS!”
See all the videos from fellow students who talk about their experiences with anxiety, grief, depression, OCD and other aspects of mental health.