How Are You, Really?

MSA’s mental health campaign reclaims sincerity in “how are you?”

How are you? Yes, you. How are you?

Before you shrug your shoulders and mumble “fine,” maybe even adding a complaisant nod if you’re feeling up to it, let me ask you again: how are you, really?

When was the last time someone asked you “how are you?” with the genuine sincerity of wanting to know where your head was really at? If it takes you more than a moment to recall the last time you’ve had a heartfelt conversation about the state of your mental health, then it’s already been far too long. Unfortunately, “how are you?” has become a doormat platitude in our day to day lives. That three-word, three-syllable phrase is now an empty shell of a question uttered at the tip of every conversation and then shoved aside instantaneously.

The Minnesota Student Association (MSA) has set out to change that by taking back the meaning in “how are you?”

It’s easy to make small talk about topical and meaningless things in our lives. It’s far more difficult to talk about the dense complexities we struggle with such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. The painstakingly familiar list goes on and on.

MSA’s “How Are You?” campaign was released in the form of an empowering mental health awareness video that doesn’t shy away from the tougher, messier, and far more complicated topics surrounding the stigma of mental health.

The poignantly emotional and beautifully executed video implores How Are You - Andrew TomtenUniversity of Minnesota students to start talking about mental health, seek the help they need, and offer help to others in return. The video is so much more than a two-minute PSA; it serves as a comforting light at the end of a long tunnel for students battling the toughest war of all—one within themselves.

The MSA website reports that nearly one out of every three University of Minnesota students will struggle with mental health issues throughout their academic career. Look around you. That could be the person standing beside you in line for the bus, the person sitting next to you in class, or maybe even your own roommate.

However, there has been some discrepancy as to whether the University is meeting the high demands of students seeking mental health attention. One University of Minnesota freshman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, illuminated the hazy process of acquiring mental health services here on campus. She explained how after years of struggling with paralyzing pangs of anxiety, she finally summoned the courage to reach out and contact Boynton Health Service this past semester, only to come across a bold-faced obstacle on their website.

Her discovery exposed the biggest flaw of this problematic system: first-time therapy appointments are put on a three-week waiting list. The first year of college is already impossibly overwhelming, and with the added weight of mental health issues, the last thing students want to hear is that they’ll need to wait a little longer to get the help they so desperately need.

Boynton has valiantly struggled to keep up with the exponentially growing number of students with mental health concerns by implementing a 24-hour University crisis line and providing daily hours for walk-in crisis counseling. But the trouble with “crisis-counseling” is that for many students, labeling their issue as a “crisis” seems too extreme. Thus, it becomes easy for struggling students to decide against reaching out to receive the help they need.

MSA is doing everything in their power to make mental health services on campus more accessible to students. The University created a text line that eliminates the daunting face-to-face confrontation necessary for scheduling an appointment at Boynton. By texting “UMN” to 61222, students can chat with on-hand counselors, free of charge. MSA has made tremendous strides for mental health awareness around campus, but institutional change has proven to be a slow progress won in small battles via forums, protests, and stalemate meetings with administration.

Ultimately, what matters most is that college students are getting the help they need and know that they are not alone. It’s important to look out for one another, because the single fiber that connects the incredibly diverse student body here in Minneapolis is our circumstance. We are students, first and foremost, but scholarship should never come at the expense of our happiness. Our mental health is non-negotiable.

The University created a text line that eliminates the daunting face-to-face confrontation necessary for scheduling an appointment at Boynton. By texting UMN to 61222, students can chat with on-hand counselors, free of charge.

So I’ll leave you with the one question I’ve yet to ask: have you whole-heartedly asked someone “how are you?” today? If not, what are you waiting for? That simple, three-word question, when spoken with fervent sincerity, has the potential to change someone’s mood, day, and maybe even their life.

It starts with you.