Half of the GW College Democrats’ executive board members quit their positions last week after rigging a freshman representative election. But in a statement released by those resigning, former GW College Democrats President Lauren Bordeaux, Vice President of Membership Elizabeth Gonzalez and Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Harita Iswara all claimed that they were resigning to focus on their mental health.
When I read that three members of the e-board had stepped down for their mental health, I initially felt concern for these students who experienced so much stress that they needed to quit. As a full-time student who struggles with a mental illness, I thought of my own leadership experiences and about the stresses those positions have placed on me.
When I later heard that former College Democrats leaders were resigning because of unethical actions and not mental health, I was outraged and offended. Student mental health is a serious issue, and using it as an excuse to mask wrongdoing dismisses the mental health struggles many students face.
I constantly need to work twice as hard to take care of my mental health as I juggle academics, several leadership positions and an internship. I have never needed to resign from leadership spots because my mental health got in the way, but I have cut down on work hours and decreased involvement with student organizations to prioritize myself and my well-being.
Three out of 10 college students struggle with depression and one in four deal with anxiety, and the country recently recorded the highest national suicide rate since World War II. Students have also shared their own concerns about health on campus, with some alleging that officials do not do enough to care for the mental health of students.
College students are constantly under stress to stay competitive with peers, meet family members’ expectations to perform well, pay for school and finally find a job post-college. It is not a surprise that many students struggle with mental health problems like anxiety and depression, which explains why the e-board resignations were taken so seriously at first.
Mental health struggles are more than just headaches that come and go, and the resigned e-board members’ actions dismiss the constant issues that those who struggle with mental illness experience. Using mental illness as a cover-up encourages the idea that focusing on mental health is just an excuse young people can use – and get away with – to back out of commitments or hide behind poor choices.
Even with increased attention on mental health in students, there is still a serious stigma attached to those who choose to prioritize their mental health or struggle with their mental health. Those who choose to step down from leadership positions, drop classes or quit work are seen as lazy and just giving excuses.
Using mental health as an excuse now could lead to a slippery slope that ends with people not believing others’ legitimate mental health needs. Taking care of your mental health is a form of self-care, but using mental health as your false reason to step down is foolish and shortsighted.
It is clear that these former board members had to resign because of their unethical actions, not their mental health. These former members should be ashamed of their behavior and the insensitivity paid to those with actual mental health struggles.
Hannah Thacker, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.