Dear Mass Media,
For over a year, I’ve read the column of your writer Raquel Lyons as she chronicles her life with obsessive compulsive disorder and suicidal ideation, a personal journey she leverages to encourage wellness on campus. Besides Craig Bidiman from University Health Services, Raquel is probably the most prominent mental health advocate in our student affairs.
Significantly, she explains the counseling services specific to the University of Massachusetts Boston, thereby drafting an action plan for any student afflicted with a disorder, or stretched too thin by lack of sleep and stress of deadlines. Because Raquel shares her experience, she provides context to more comprehensively understand the nature of the different support services.
Over the course of many installments, Raquel has broadcast that recovery is a process and not an outcome; therefore, her column works to dispel unrealistic and damaging expectations. There is no permanent or total cure, but people can get better. Furthermore, she expands awareness about the treatment toolkit, crucial because an individual's needs fluctuate according to their recovery status, and because comorbid disorders interact uniquely.
But the most powerful aspect of Raquel’s work is the simple fact that she braves the public eye to vocalizes her issues, breaking with a media tradition and overall discourse that caustically vilifies this type of candidness, thereby keeping mental health in the shadows, not only preventing healing, but compromising it through the perpetuation of stigma.
Yet, in this changing era when people publicly identify as being in recovery, there are also new questions we must consider. When does lowering one’s filters to become a role model ever come at the cost of personal recovery? How can we as a community help keep these pioneers safe?
I’ve read Raquel’s column passively for over a year, but something I saw recently at South Station inspired me to respond. Fellow commuters flitted in every direction. A homeless woman sat against a far wall, ignored by everyone except for another crouching woman. The homeless woman’s eyes were wide and wet, and her face bore an expression of catharsis that only comes from finally being heard after living invisibly for too long. I walked closer and saw that the listener was Raquel.
The greatness of a public leader is measured by how they act in plain view, and by the good they engender when no one is looking. Because of people like Raquel, there are leaders in recovery that we now measure in both of these ways. During that moment in South Station, I realized that beyond our university, the whole city of Boston should be grateful she is here.