Mental Health and Grad School

He said that he does not know the historical period in question, and invited me to send my academic material to his boyfriend who is a specialist. If you don’t see that this is not appropriate, you are either incompetent or corrupted. Which one is it?

You say that there is no need for Bailey to apologize?

He referred to the Mother of God as a “symbol” that is not really true. In class, he talked about the “boobs” of the Vigin Mary. What is your field, Barnaby, administration or academics? Do you not know that people can be dismissed for saying this sort of nonsense against other people’s faith? . . .

God comes like a thief in the night for all the corrupted hypocrites of this world. He says so both in the Old and in the New Testament: do you also think that the Word of God is “unprofessional and unacceptable”?

Why don’t you tell Him so when you appear before His Throne, and see how He reacts to that.

Who will save you from your “feeling of grievance” then?

You’d think this is a petulant 11-year-old, firing off angry Facebook status updates, right? You’d be mistaken, though. In a new weird development surrounding my alma mater, a graduate student has been writing numerous long and rude emails to the Assistant Dean of Yale’s graduate school.

I know Dean Barnaby and he always seemed a highly professional and helpful administrator. There were several administrative issues I faced as a grad student (having to do with my visa and financial status) that Dean Barnaby resolved very effectively. I can’t imagine him having any interest in discriminating against anybody because of their Catholicism, which is what this student accuses him off. In my numerous interactions with the Dean, he never addressed my religious affiliation in any way. I always got the impression that he had way too much administrative issues on his plate to care about anything like that. By the way, at my department at Yale, most people were Catholic (for the obvious reasons), and I can’t remember their faith being any sort of an issue for anybody at any point.

In the correspondence with this irate grad student, Dean Barnaby goes out of his way to be helpful. He even states that the student will continue receiving the full stipend in spite of not being able to work as a TA, which is something everybody is required to do at this point of grad school:

Because you have shown no understanding of the inappropriateness of your behavior, you will not be able to continue in your role as a teaching fellow. However, the University will provide you with the standard stipend for a University Fellowship this term.

The student, however, continues to rant in a way that makes one very worried about her mental health.

The reason why I’m posting these excerpts from an extremely weird correspondence between a grad student and an administrator is that people often fail to realize what an enormous emotional and psychological toll grad school can take on them. I’ve known several people who ended up at psychiatric facilities or in alcohol rehab centers because grad school turned out to be too much for them.

Read the entire correspondence, folks. Read it and remember that grad school is very tough. You need to take care of your mental health just like you need to take care of your physical well-being. If you don’t engage in constant and very deliberate psychological hygiene, you might start to unravel. And then, one day, you just might find yourselves firing off completely unhinged emails about Virgin Mary’s boobs.

Thank you, dear fellow Yalie, for sending me this priceless link.

Mental Health on Campuses

An article in Inside Higher Ed discusses the ways in which a Canadian university is trying to address mental health concerns of people on campus. I read the article twice and, from what I could understand, the idea is not so much to offer help to those who solicit it but to identify and assist those who do not:

We discussed the concept of a central repository for information and concerns about students – and struggled with the idea of privacy rights, slander and alarmism. What resulted was a call to the Winnipeg RegionalHealth Authority and the creation of a specific task force on the topic. The long-term plan includes offering a Mental Health First Aid certificate to everyone on campus: faculty, staff and students, as well as establishing a concrete strategy to consolidate potential concerns about all members of the campus community in a sensitive and functional way.

This is not an easy task, and the group is only in its infancy. Much of the talk around the table has centred on how to respond to students who are obviously acting out. One issue is that it has the potential to focus on the punitive. Another concern was that this would only address a portion of those on campus who could benefit from some care and attention. We are a campus community and I believe that we need to show care to everyone – not just the large group of undergraduate students who are the easiest to target. What about the faculty who are struggling with the publish-or-perish-syndrome?

To be honest, I’m bothered by the language of the article. I don’t want anybody to decide whether I need “some care and attention.” Truth be told, care and attention are the last things I seek from my work environment. I fail to see how I could benefit from some do-gooder with no specialized training diagnosing me and offering unsolicited help. From what I understand, no therapist can help a person who doesn’t express a desire to be helped. With the proliferation of TV shows of the Dr. Phil variety, many people now believe they are in the position to inflict their platitudes about mental health on others. I, for one, would like my workplace to be free of any discussions of my mental issues that are not initiated solely and exclusively by me.

I’m afraid that this kind of programs will identify those of us whose ways of behavior are in any way unusual or eccentric and hound us with offers to improve our existences.

The article ends with a series of questions:

When does this “care and concern” constitute an invasion of privacy? Do we have the potential to cause damage with our actions? We are a teaching institution – at what point does our attentiveness over-step boundaries into an area that has nothing to do with the mandate of the Academy?

My answer to them is: Yes, it does. Yes, we do. And, from the very beginning.

Everybody should do what they were trained to do. I should teach and do research. Mental health specialists should treat mental health issues of their patients. Just like I don’t expect a therapist or a psychiatrist to teach my course on Hispanic Civilization with any degree of success, a scholar cannot be expected to provide psychological help to students or colleagues.

How do you feel about such initiatives?