With students buried in mountains of college applications and summatives, emails from counselors remain neglected in mailboxes. At SIS, students strive for ultimate academic excellence— sometimes at the cost of sleepless nights, undealt stress, anxiety, and depression. A healthy mental state is not only important, but a prerequisite for a productive social and personal life. Especially with the advent of the “corona blues” in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, it is no longer the sole responsibility of counselors but also of students to take more active initiative in caring for their wellbeing.
To be fair, it may not simply be a dismissal of one’s mental health, but more troublesome roots in stigma against mental illnesses. Based in Confucianism, Korean culture historically prioritizes the honor of the family over the needs of individuals; people often shy away from psychiatric treatments to preserve their family’s face, discouraged from being identified as the “mentally sick.” Combined with entrenched social prejudice, cutthroat competition may leave no room for students to admit to mental problems or vulnerabilities. Instead of a safe space to explore emotions, students may fear a trip to the counselor’s office as a sign of helplessness.
Although it is difficult to change this pervasive culture overnight, it is crucial for students to normalize embracing and mastering the intensity of their emotions— anger, loneliness, jealousy, and joy— instead of shying away from them. Normalization starts with acceptance. The student council could start with organizing days like the International Day of Happiness, a worldwide celebration of happiness and health; they could consider colorfully designing school walls or bulletins radiating positivity, setting up “gratitude jars”, or coordinating small-scale pizza parties and celebrations. First period classes can start off each morning with a positive discussion on gratitude and positivity. These small measures just scratch the surface of all the possible steps that can be taken to tackle the stigma against mental health issues, and will surely add up over time.
Most importantly, it all comes down to how students individually can take advantage of the numerous platforms in school and rely upon fundamental care routines. From going back to the basics— getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a balanced diet is crucial— to meditating during the day and immersing in creative hobbies, students should strive to strike the optimal balance between their recreation and work. Instead of ignoring emails from counselors, book an appointment or swing by their office for a chat to get something off your mind. After all, a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.