A recurring column exploring various statistics related to sexual wellness, mental health, and substance use at Colorado College, brought to you in collaboration with the Wellness Resource Center.
By SUSANNA PENFIELD
At the time that the National College Health Association survey was administered, this is the percentage of CC students who reported feeling “very lonely” within the last two weeks. When the scope expanded to 12 months, this number jumped to 75 percent. When language shifted from “very lonely” to “hopeless,” 54 percent of CC students indicated that this was true of their feelings over the course of the last year.
I want to preface any following conclusions by stating, from personal experience, that loneliness is to college as aging is to birthdays: unavoidable. Just as maturity tends to follow age, though, personal growth tends to follow loneliness, which should not be hidden or shamed for fear of stigmatization or associations with “weakness.” However — and I also state this from personal experience — it is much easier said than done to vocalize such feelings.
It is the admittance of loneliness, rather than the phenomena itself, on which I want to focus. Of the 54 percent of CC students who reported feeling “hopeless” in the last 12 months, 60.2 percent were female and 39 perent were male. The discrepancy between genders was true of “very lonely” reports as well. A similar trend emerged in the “Healthy Minds” survey, in which 12 percent of females reported experiences of suicidal ideation in the past year while 8 percent of males said the same.
These statistics fit into a much larger national narrative of gendered loneliness, corroborated by study after study finding that women self-describe as lonely more often than men. However, separate research has found that the division may not lie in susceptibility to mental health troubles, but rather in willingness to admit vulnerability.
Studies conducted in this vein have aimed to understand constructions of gender and their influence on emotional expression. In doing so, researchers found that the more “masculine” a man’s perception of himself, the more reluctant he was to acknowledge a social deficit of any kind (Asatryan, 2016). Mental health is complex, and no set of characteristics can provide a perfect explanation of how and why certain individuals have difficulty achieving it. What we can say is that the societal tendency to conflate gender with emotion is dangerous and can intensify some emotions while simultaneously suppressing them.
The culture in which we live encourages us to make weakness invisible. I am speaking not only of American society at large, but of the specific pressures that come with attending a small, competitive, liberal arts college located in sunny Colorado. 75 percent of CC students have felt lonely in the last year alone; even that is true simply of those who decided to respond truthfully to an online survey. Clearly the experience is shared, regardless of gender.
With suicide as the second leading cause of death in our age group, it is imperative to break the stigma around the topic of mental health by interrogating the myriad ways everyday struggles are erased in our communities. Next block, learn to support a friend experiencing mental health challenges with the Wellness Resource Center on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 3:30 p.m.