Mind Matters, as co-president Alison Greenberg introduces it, is “a small but mighty group of students devoted to mental health awareness and advocacy.” Today, Mind Matters held what Greenberg terms a “University-wide town hall meeting” designed to get students talking openly about eating.
“I’ve been hoping to hold a panel since my freshman year,” said Greenberg, now a first-semester senior. “This event is meant to celebrate the survivors and to celebrate the people who are still fighting so hard.”
Greenberg clarifies a few key ground rules before she opens up the forum for the rest of the students to share stories and ask questions. “I don’t want to make rules, but you should be aware that you’re actually talking about life and death when you’re talking about eating disorders,” Greenberg says. “Think before you speak—and then please speak.”
The panel included four students and Yale psychologist Carole Goldberg, who serves as faculty advisor for Walden Peer Counseling.
Jay Pabarue, one of the panel members, is a junior English major. In ninth grade, he spent two months in inpatient care recovering from anorexia. “It’s really not publicized when men have anorexia,” Pabarue said. “A lot of anorexia clinics are female-only, in fact. My pediatrician just told me to eat more and I would be fine.” Eventually, Pabarue had to admit that he wasn’t fine. “I was at the point where I refused to drink Diet Coke because I was scared it would be accidentally switched out for regular Coke,” Pabarue said.
Greenberg feels close to the issues in a different way. “I had a lot of close friends at prep school—and also at Yale—who had anorexia nervosa or bulimia,” Greenberg said. “I was seeing my friends waste away.”
Some of the students on the panel, like Greenberg, have never experienced an eating disorder. Others are still recovering.
Pabarue is hopeful that talking about his experience openly will help others to see that they’re not alone. “When I got to college, I met a bunch of kids on campus who had struggled with mental health issues,” Pabarue said, crunching an apple. “I realized that it would be better for me to be able to share and for them if they knew about me. Everyone is carrying stuff around with them, even if they don’t present themselves that way.”
Stories from Pabarue, Greenberg, and a third panel member started a wave of questions and stories from the students in the audience.
Although all their stories are different, the students on the panel seemed to come to a consensus on one thing: that Yale Mental Health is not doing its job.
“Yale hurts more than it helps,” Greenberg said. “They treat mental health like a disciplinary issue. To tell someone they have to leave Yale because of a mental health problem is to tell them, ‘they’re not our problem.’ But they are our problem.” “These students are Peter Salovey’s problem; they’re Mary Miller’s problem; they’re my problem,” Greenberg said.
It’s clear that the individual and administrative issues brought up can’t be resolved in a 90-minute panel. But, as Greenberg says, just talking about it is a step. “We want you to struggle less, and we want you to struggle loudly,” Greenberg says to the room, clasping her hands together. “This is how we have to address it. Equal parts love and care and humor, because that’s the only way to get out of something that can literally eat you alive.”