cover image

Illustration by Davit Jintcharadze

Mental Health Advocacy

No one will judge you if get a toothache; they will simply advise you to go to the dentist. However, there is another kind of pain that is often neglected: psychological pain.

Oct 14, 2018

On Oct. 2., a New York University student committed suicide in New York City. This was shocking for students across the NYU global network and compelled the administration to remind students of the importance of mental health. The NYU administration released a statement urging students to utilize all resources available on campus. When such a tragic event impacts our community, students and faculty alike become more active in exploring issues connected to mental health.
When our stomach hurts, we don’t wait before going to the doctor. Physical pain is obvious, and it happens to everyone. No one will judge you if get a toothache; they will simply advise you to go to the dentist. However, there is another kind of pain that is often neglected: psychological pain.
Mental health issues can affect your mood, emotions, behaviour and eventually, your physical well-being. Often, people fail to recognize that depression, anxiety, sleeping and eating disorders are deeply rooted psychological issues that require a lot of energy and time to be solved.
I first became aware of the problems caused by my repressed emotions as I returned from my Candidate Weekend. I was happy, excited, a little anxious and perhaps agitated — I simply did not notice that anything was wrong. It turned out that the negative emotions I had repressed and neglected over the course of the last few years of stressful studying finally erupted, just as I was accepted to university. It took me weeks to convince myself to go see a psychologist and acknowledge the weird emotional “thing” by its own name — a neurosis. Emotions started to affect me physically, raising my body temperature and causing panic attacks. It took me months of self-reflection and therapy to get through my mental health crisis.
I have since learned that many people experience similar feelings in their lives and that no one can completely prevent mental health issues. Today, I can say that my experience moulded me into a stronger person. I can be honest with myself and others, directly express my emotions and no longer bottle them up until they become too much to tolerate. When you have something to say, you have to find a way to express it. I have seen some of my classmates go through these issues as well — and today, they are ready to share their experiences, hoping that someone else might gather the courage to seek help.
Leo El-Azhab, Class of 2022, was originally accepted to NYU Abu Dhabi last year. Like a number of students each year, she chose to take a gap year, listing mental health as the reason. Even when she felt that the university itself was amazing, something inside Leo felt disharmonious: this feeling was depression and anxiety. She felt numb and apathetic; her condition felt like “there is a black hole inside you and it just gets bigger, sucking in your personality.” At first, taking a gap year seemed too radical, but eventually, with the help of community members, she managed to come to her decision — one that she does not regret.
“I had a very tough time adjusting and had a … mental breakdown halfway through first semester,” recounted Azhab, adding that she felt like she was doing something wrong for herself by studying.
The university administration, according to Leo, was more helpful than she had expected. At the same time, while she felt that the majority of people on campus were supportive, there were people from whom she felt hostility because of her mental health.
Despite this, she managed to recover.
“What helped me get better was to understand where my thoughts come from,” she admitted. Leo believes that understanding where your thought patterns come from and why you react to these patterns in a certain way is crucial for recovery. Every action is motivated by an emotion. Even today, Leo has good and bad days just like everyone else, but she learned how to deal with her mental health issues.
“For months I felt trapped inside my head,” shared another student who asked to remain anonymous. Social and emotional struggles, unexpressed emotions, college application deadlines and academic pressure made her emotions bottle up, resulting in insomnia and severe anxiety. A key to escaping the self-constructed cage inside her mind came to her unexpectedly one New Year’s Eve when a classmate asked how she was. Instead of a generic response, she decided to answer truthfully and opened up to the person about her emotional struggles. Being honest with herself and others, as well as having a person willing to listen was what she needed to relieve months of stress.
“Simple acts like listening can make things so much better,” she admits. When I asked her what advice she would give people going through similar problems, she urged people to be there for each other. “Let yourself be heard, and at the same time try to hear others,” she said.
What are the takeaways from these experiences? Many of us have gone through difficult times. Learning how to deal with one’s own emotions is how one learns to deal with the outside world. As a rule, the way we handle the world around us depends on how we organize the world within us — the world of our emotions is as real as everything around us. Psychologists, psychotherapists, friends and parents are out there to help if you are experiencing anything you cannot deal with. At the end of the day, however, your community can only help you help yourself. We have resources like professional psychologists and REACH available on campus, but you have to ask for help.
I have many friends at NYUAD going through the struggles of adjusting to university life — just like myself — and we often discuss our emotional problems. Ultimately, health — mental and physical — matters more than anything else; more than your ex-boyfriend or harshly graded essay.
Everyone experiences difficulties, and you don’t have to hide them behind the facade of a fake smile. It is fine to not be fine. It is only a sign of strength to stop neglecting your issues and ask for help.
Davit Jintcharadze is a staff writer. Write him at
gazelle logo