Author’s note: This article discusses eating disorders.
Getting through college is a struggle enough for some people, but the difficulties become much worse when juggling treatment for mental illness. For one student at UCLA seeking treatment for anorexia, instead of receiving help with academic difficulties, she was instead advised by her professor to “work harder” and later drop the class. Her best friend’s response is simply inspirational.
Juliette Virzi, a fourth year and co-director of UCLA’s Active Minds, fought back against the professor’s insensitivity in an op-ed in UCLA’s Daily Bruin.
She writes, “When you told her to work harder, she heard you say she wasn’t good enough. When you asked her to drop your class, she heard you say she was a failure. When you brought in her department counselor to convince her again to drop your class, she heard you say she doesn’t deserve to be at UCLA at all. I encourage you to consider that maybe being enrolled in your class is the only thing in her life that makes her feel normal.”
But instead of just chastising, Virzi encourages the professor to “…help me celebrate her for fighting this illness. Help me celebrate her for fighting for her education despite this struggle. Help me celebrate the fact that she is still here with us.”
Virzi’s letter shows us why we need to encourage and support those around us with mental illness instead of trivializing their struggles. Educators as authority figures play a huge role in particular, and can determine in a student’s success when battling illness. How each of us reacts can make the biggest difference in someone’s choice to seek help.
Her message of compassion and empathy reminds of all of the power we each have to support someone in need and end the stigma.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.