Hello! Welcome to another installation of Wesleying’s In Depth series, where we go in depth (get it?) about some of the many, many student groups on this campus. For this installation we interviewed Paige Hutton ‘18 about the new group she helped to establish, Synapse. Paige is an advocate for greater mental health awareness, and hopes that the creation of this group will provide another space for those dealing with or concerned about mental health to gather and express their concerns and needs. Please read after the jump to learn more about the group:
Wesleying: How would you define Synapse? How would you best describe the group?
Paige: The short description is that it is a radical inter-sectional mental health awareness and activism group with the goal of addressing the gap (which is the pun) between need and mental health resources on campus. Synapse will run campus wide events to promote positive mental health, challenge ableism and neurotypical thinking, as well as challenge the administrative response to students who have mental illnesses or exhibit neurodiversity. This is the sort-of shortened version because I think within that, there’s going to be more things that we do.
Do you want to expand a bit on what those things might be now?
P: I think that it will be largely up to the people in the group. I have some ideas, but I am also doing this because I care about my friends and their mental health, and I’ve had a couple of friends who have had to take medical leaves, which… I would like that not to have to be a thing, and Wesleyan kinda makes it pretty difficult to leave and come back. In our first [meeting] we went over some big things that we wanted to address, which might include educational things that take the form of zines, or panels. More activist-y stuff which could also be artistic in nature, but it would depend on the venue. It would also be good to do things that contribute to community building, and be relaxing in this kind of crappy time of the year.
Someone in our first meeting suggested that we do some sort of educational thing about how to be a good friend to someone who has a mental illness, which will be one of our main topics of discussion.
What role do you think that Synapse will play amongst the Wesleyan community?
P: What spurred me to create the group was the lack of understanding of mental illness. Mental illness is not understood well in general. There’s more acceptance of depression and anxiety and people understand it a little bit, but only certain iterations. And I think when the University hosts events promoting mental wellness, it feels kind of cliché when it’s like “this is what your roommate is going to be doing if they’re depressed” and I think that, yes – some of those examples might be true, but there’s lots of other things that fly really under the radar, ‘cause I think to be at Wesleyan, I personally have had to be very high-functioning, even with a mental illness, and I think that there is a possibility that there are many people on this campus who are high-functioning, and their professors don’t see anything wrong, and they can hand in work on time, and do like 8 student groups, but they’re really suffering, and I think that those people really could use some help- at least I would’ve liked some.
In general, there are students on this campus that have other mental illnesses that aren’t talk about, and are kind of demonized, and when people exhibit those behaviors people will be like “you’re a horrible person” but they aren’t trying to understand what’s going on, and I think it would be good in general if there was a willingness to understand how people’s identities and abilities and disabilities affect them, and what that looks like on a day-to-day basis.
Would you like there to be any relationship or dialogue between Synapse and CAPS?
P: I would like to work with CAPS, especially with Alysha Warren and Amber Jones, who have, in my opinion, been the most active in identity groups. Most recently I saw them at one of Ujamaa’s Sunday support circles, and we were talking about how mental illness affects black people in particular. I think that they are very receptive to hearing things and working with people, not to say that the other people aren’t, I don’t know them and I don’t really know what their jobs descriptions are, but I’ve had really positive experience working with [Alysha and Amber]. Dr. [Jennifer] D’Andrea, who is the head of CAPS, has also done a lot. Especially recently. She pushed to hire an APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse). I was on the hiring committee for [this position] as well, and [the new APRN] said that she wanted to do more community outreach.
Do you envision the group as an independent student one, or would you like some involvement from faculty?
P: I think there would definitely be some things where we would want to include professors, for two reasons: I think that there are a lot of well meaninged professors who sometimes say things that are just really bad, or they are not really understanding when it comes to late work. I think there should be some flexibility. I don’t think that, in general, people ask for extensions unless they actually need it, and I think there should be more willingness on the behalf of professors to accommodate students.
I also think that faculty have things to teach us, and it would be good to have more communication between us and professors. And also people in Middletown! One of the people who attended the first event is a Middletown resident and she is really into mental health activism. I think it would be really cool to work with lots of different people. That being said, I don’t want it to be a policy heavy thing. I’m not into that. It’s not my job. Whoever writes the Student Handbook can be in charge of that, and we can put pressure on them, but I [don’t intend for this to be the use of the space].
How do you think that students can help to promote awareness of mental health on campus?
P: Well, during my sophomore year I went to a teach-in about restorative justice in the judicial system and the message was that no-one is disposable. I really try to live by that model, even though it’s really hard when you really don’t like people, but I think that as Wesleyan students we should strive to make sure that everyone is held accountable, and that we are checking in on people we care about.
Do you have any final thoughts, or anything you want to say?
P: I would like to say something about last semester. So we- me, other student activists, and people on the WSA, did a lot of work trying to get better resources in CAPS because we felt that it was an immediate problem, and I think it is still an immediate problem, that there is still such a long wait [to get an appointment]. I was getting a little frustrated with the fact that Roth and the Budget people would try to counter that and say “I don’t know more people in CAPS is really the right idea- I don’t know if that’s economical,” but it is not about being economical. It’s about meeting student need right now. You wouldn’t expect someone with a physical illness to wait 8-10 days to get served, and I don’t really see mental and physical health being that different; I think that they’re very related.
I think that the University likes to compartmentalize [the two]. Like, “Physical health, fine. You won’t have to wait [for care] more than a day. Mental health? No, that’s less important.” Once people are finally getting their meds again, now that we have an APRN, hopefully the wait will start going down. CAPS is not the end all be all, that’s why I’m stressing community accountability and understanding. There’s only so much that CAPS is able and willing to do.
If you have any questions, or want to learn more about how to get involved with this group, please contact Paige at phutton[at]wesleyan[dot]edu.