End The Stigma, Start The Dialogue

My story is all too common, but unfortunately, it is rarely discussed.

In the spring of 2015, my workload was unprecedented. As a junior pre-med, I was taking physics, biochemistry, Spanish and philosophy, conducting lab research and studying for the MCAT. I was overwhelmed, stressed and slipping back into a depression I thought I left behind. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was diagnosed with depression, put on medication, and referred to a therapist. Thankfully, after four years of work and struggle, I began to feel like myself again and eventually weaned off my medication.

However, the overwhelming stress of my course load triggered the same feelings of numbness and doubt I didn’t know I would feel again. The fact that all of my hard work would ultimately boil down to two numbers, my GPA and my MCAT score, overwhelmed me. I told myself I could get through it all by myself. I constantly repeated the same excuses over and over: I don’t need help. It’s just stress. Everyone experiences stress, especially at Georgetown. I just need to work harder and cut out the things that don’t matter: sleep, nutrition and a social life. After abandoning friendships, losing seven pounds and sleeping a fraction of the amount I should have, my illusion that everything was okay shattered. I realized my stress and unhappiness was not at a normal level and that I needed help. I couldn’t just mentally tough it out, and I needed to admit that my depression was not a simple fact of the past.

Finally, I admitted some, but not all, of this stress to my mom. She suggested I call my doctor, attempt to get back on antidepressants and try to see a therapist. Unfortunately, my doctor wouldn’t prescribe the medication without an appointment, and since I live on the West Coast, this was impossible. So I turned to the institution that was supposed to be there for me: Counseling and Psychiatric Services. I actively felt the stigma against mental health as I walked into the counselling center. I prayed no one would see me enter the doors, fearing I would be judged for needing to see a counsellor. Due to scheduling issues, cancellations and a snow day, I waited eight weeks for an appointment. Unfortunately, after my first two sessions, I did not feel like CAPS counsellors helped me to make any progress. While I know CAPS has helped so many people on this campus, it did not work for me, and I decided not to return for my third session.

Fortunately, I got through some of the worst parts of my depression not with a therapist, but instead with the help of my friends and family and the elimination of my stress with the end of the semester. My depression is not cured or gone, though, and I wish I had confidence in the systems in place that are meant to help me.

I joined the Georgetown University Student Association Mental Health Committee to help determine ways to reduce the stigma of mental illness. My name is Clare Mallahan and I suffer from depression. This does not make me crazy or sick; it makes me one in four adults in the United States. At Georgetown, we need CAPS reform and administrative change, but right now, we also just need more dialogue. I know I’m not the only one on this campus who suffers from these issues, but sometimes, it can get pretty lonely. No one likes to admit they are not happy all the time, but it is the truth. The more we speak up, the more we engage in dialogue, the more we take some of the heavy weight off our shoulders, the more we can accomplish.

It’s time to #EndTheStigma that surrounds mental health and illness.


Clare Mallahan is a senior in the College.

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  1. Harold A. Maio says:

    –End The Stigma, Start The Dialogue

    OK, I will start the dialogue:

    Stop directing a “stigma”. The harm you do is palpable.

    Harold A. Maio

  2. You are so brave for expressing yourself and sharing your story. We need more people out there doing that. Mental health shouldn’t have the stigma that it has, that something is “wrong with you”. It should be about the courage to get help when you need it. You mentioned the 1 in 4 adults, that’s just for depression. If we truly encourage and help one another, we can change the stories that those 1 in 4 and others who struggle with mental health are telling. Thank you Clare.

  3. Daniel Kocer says:

    Clare, thanks for addressing this stigma, and the good you do is palpable. I think your approach is perfect. Dialogue softens the stigma, and this makes it easier for people to seek help and to provide help for mental health issues. Hopefully one day we will schedule and attend a mental check-up with the same comfort and acceptance as a physical check-up.

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