Writing this column every other week won’t be easy for me. Mental health is a deeply personal topic for me, and my journey with it is, at best, turbulent. But because it’s so personal, I also consider it to be urgent and important.
I’m taking a risk with “On My Mind.” I know I’ll constantly struggle to find the right words to talk about mental wellness, whether because I fear judgment or because it’s hard to discuss aspects of myself I probably will never fully understand.
But I also know discussing mental health is powerful. The myriad stigmas surrounding mental health are only strengthened by silence, so if my experience can help break down those walls and encourage people to be more conscious of their own minds, it’s worth spending the time and energy to find the right words.
In our first issue of the school year last week, the Daily Trojan announced its new wellness initiative — a program led by Wellness Director Natalie Bettendorf and myself to prevent burnout and maintain the well-being of our staff, as well as to improve and grow our coverage of mental health within the USC community.
This column is part of that increased coverage. Throughout the semester, I’ll discuss my own experiences dealing with depression and anxiety, the practices and resources I’ve used for support and the ways in which conversation and action around mental health needs to be better, both in the USC community and more broadly.
However, this column isn’t just for people dealing with mental illnesses or just about those illnesses. Wellness is about much more: It’s about dealing with stress before a major test; it’s about handling relationships — with romantic partners, friends, family — and the confusion that comes with them; it’s about taking care of ourselves in small ways, like getting enough sleep or improving time management.
Many people disregard opportunities to improve their wellness because they feel like it doesn’t apply to them — that mental health is something that only people who are struggling much more have to think about. This narrative is dangerous because it prevents individuals from seeking help for problems that they consider less pressing and from practicing self-care as a preventative measure for their well-being.
It’s helpful to think of mental health in terms of physical health. Most people see a dentist at least once or twice a year, just to keep their teeth clean and make sure they don’t have any larger problems with their dental health. They also brush their teeth twice a day, to keep them clean and healthy.
Most people don’t go to the dentist or brush their teeth because they already have a cavity or because their teeth hurt — they do it as a preventative measure, to make sure they don’t get a cavity in the first place.
In many ways, mental health is similar to dental health. Certainly, you should see a specialist if you’re feeling pain or know there is something wrong with your health. But simple measures like brushing teeth should be a daily practice.
For mental health, that means incorporating self-care into everyday life. Just like brushing teeth, it doesn’t have to be complicated or take more than 5 minutes out of the day. It can take many forms — a self-guided meditation every morning, taking the time to declutter and reorganize your desk or room every few weeks or simply going for a walk every evening to clear your mind.
Similarly, you can see a professional about your mental health, even if you don’t feel like you have a major issue. Therapists and counselors can help identify opportunities for growth in your personal and professional life that’ll make you feel happier and more secure, and they can prevent destructive situations or behaviors in your life from becoming major problems started as minor annoyances.
It’s about being mindful — being conscious of your brain as a body part like any other that you have to check in on every so often. It can be tricky because the mind is invisible and enigmatic, but it’s vital to take care of it.
I hope everyone can benefit from this column by applying mindfulness and self-care to their own lives and by learning more about how mental health affects them, no matter the state of their well-being.
Karan Nevatia is a junior writing about mental health and wellness. His column, “On My Mind,” runs every other Thursday.