Since I first arrived at MIT, I have acted as a counselor for my friends and peers as a MedLink (I now live off campus and am no longer an official MedLink), listening to them share their most stressful experiences. From these conversations, the following are the three biggest pieces of information that I wish MIT students understood about seeking help.
Stress is normal at MIT, but that doesn’t mean you should be stressed
MIT is tough, and MIT is stressful. You know it is challenging and you know it will always remain challenging — for everyone here. But that does not mean you should be suffering. Too often, I see students that are completely overwhelmed by their work but refuse to believe that there is an option for them besides “sucking it up” and tooling away their misery. IHTFP is our motto, and they take it to heart. They think that hating their p-sets and depriving their bodies of sleep are normal considering the circumstances. The admissions office says that we all deserve to be here, but the way to prove it is not to load up with endless amount of work and continually grind away at it.
What I want you to see is that there are other options. You deserve to be happy, and MIT should not be something standing in the way. That means realizing that the overwhelming feelings of helplessness or the self-deprecation that we can experience should not be a part of our MIT experiences, and that we should seek to address them.
Talk to people, frequently
Feeling depressed? Starting to get sick? Is your relationship going through a rough patch? Are personal issues getting in the way of your work? If they aren’t now, could they interfere with your academics later? It is so important to tell someone about it, even if you are doubtful it will help. And it is better to share sooner, rather than later.
It does not have to be an extensive conversation. You do not have to go into tons of details. Just let someone know that you are possibly going through a tough time and that you may be turning to them for help in the future.
Here’s an example of something you should keep in mind the next time you start becoming overwhelmed: suppose you get sick before an exam, decide to try taking it, and end up performing poorer than you should have. If S3, MIT Medical, or your professor knew that you were feeling sick before you ever got to the exam, you would have a chance at appealing for a make-up test at a more appropriate time. If no one knew ahead of time, your chances are not so good.
I recommend talking to friends, family, MedLinks, GRTs, housemasters, house managers, TAs, professors, your dorm’s security guards, RLADs, S3, MIT Medical, or mental health when you get overwhelmed. It is easy and it can help. Seriously, go talk to someone.
Getting help isn’t as bad as you think it is
You are not weak for asking for help. You still deserve to be here even if you need an extension on a p-set or need to reschedule an exam. Your professor will not think less of you because you do not understand the subject material. You are not broken because you are in therapy. Your friends and family will still love you if you take anti-depressants. Life will not end if you take time off from MIT, and MIT will still be here for you when you return.
I know some of these suggestions will seem tough, or impossible. It took me two years to work up the courage to ask for an extension on a p-set. I felt defeated and was visibly nervous because I felt like I was failing to meet my own standards, as well as those set for me by my peers and MIT. It seems silly now because it was all so painless in the end. When I share that story, I tell people that things do not get worse when you ask for help. The MIT community is incredibly supportive and strives to provide good care for all its members, so speak up and do not be afraid to ask someone to help make your life a little bit easier.