We need to enlist our educators in the fight for mental health.
This board will go ahead and claim the following now: UNC will never, ever, supply enough medical mental health services to meet current demand. The fight for mental health needs to be fought on multiple fronts beyond the therapist’s office and the pharmaceutical counter. While medical science has an obvious role to play in this struggle, mental illness is beyond the body; it is sickness of the soul. We desire our souls be made well, and the soul cannot be palliated by scientific medicine alone. Luckily, the Triangle has other healers we can call on.
The humanities instructors we have available to us can grant tools that our souls need. In the ruthless quest to acquire "marketable skills," it is easy to forget that university education should ideally place students as citizens within the total context of the world. This requires considering transcendental questions of the human condition, and how various agents of history and literature respond in word and deed to those questions. Anxiety and melancholy about existence is nothing new. Rather than focus on our own skull-sized kingdoms and problems that seem crushing within those confines, we need to contextualize our issues and seek guidance from examples, the very examples that our humanities instructors can provide.
"What would J. C. do?" is a funny meme, but those international bestsellers the Bible, Torah, and Quran actually do spend a fair amount of page space debating what is good, what is true, and how we can best live with each other and ourselves. Much of Shakespeare's work catalogs mental illness and how without proper self-awareness and community support, it causes tragedy (Othello’s obsessive jealousy, the Macbeths' megalomania). Pieced together not only from tangible deeds but from the correspondence between people and written meditations to the self, history provides endless fascinating narratives as to how men and women have faced mental adversity.
Kenneth Burke once called literature "equipment for living." Our humanities instructors, at their best, can trace lines through great works from the ancient to the present that address certain fundamental questions and subquestions: Who am I? Why am I here? What can be done? To whom am I obligated and how? How does one best prepare to die? What is true? What is beautiful? To read the conversations that result from these questions and to frame one's life in these terms goes a long way in assuaging anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses even if it does not cure them.