Stigmas around mental health, in my limited and second-hand experience, seem long-lived. And yet I've observed the grip of such pejorative attitudes loosening in recent years, at least a little. The topic has struck a less verboten note lately; acknowledgements of challenge and calls for support can find themselves touted as brave vulnerability and wise self-care, to be met with empathy. Knee-jerk feelings of shame about flaws or signs of weakness no longer represent the only accepted way to respond. While it's far from perfect, it's closer to better.
I'm unpacking that context about two hours after I had an exchange with a student that made part of me pause even as the rest of me went on leading a lesson. Students were working in self-selected groups to review their reading from The Odyssey, as part of preparing informal recaps for classmates. I noticed one student standing apart from the rest of one talkative group, so I slid nearby.
Unprompted, the student said, "This is so stressful."
I offered a few reassurances: "This is low-stakes, no grades. We're after first-draft thinking, practicing sharing what we know."
"I understand," said the student. "I just didn't take my medication this morning. That's probably why I'm feeling so stressed."
"What are some other ways you cope when you're feeling this way?" I asked.
"I separate myself from where the stress is."
"How's that going?"
"I'm glad. Thanks for sharing how you're doing."
A few minutes later, the group went on to deliver its run-through of the epic. The stressed student opted to play the part of Argos, Odysseus' dog. That meant the student could wander around our imagined Ithaca, still a little apart from others, wondering when his master might return.