Before the beginning of the 2019 spring semester, I attended a resident assistant training — also known as RA training — and underwent a variety of sessions that discussed different topics. RAs go through training every semester to learn more about the university's community and how we can be good role models. One of the sessions I signed up for regarded mental health and how RAs can still be an effective leader despite having a mental illness. Unlike the other lectures, this session specifically focused on our mental health and shattered the stigma that people with mental illnesses can't be in leadership roles.
Throughout the presentation, I learned statistics involving mental health and mental illnesses, such as one in four college students, between the ages of 18-24, have a diagnosable mental illness. Other facts like 7% of parents believed their child had a mental health issue shocked me a bit more. The second half of the presentation — the part that stuck with me the most — involved how RAs can still do an amazing job despite their mental health issues. This section discussed that even though one might be struggling with a mental health problem, there are ways RAs can help themselves and, to a degree, use that to their advantage while assisting residents.
If someone is struggling with a mental health issue, the presenter explained that it doesn't mean they're incapable of being in a leadership position. Just like a physical health issue, that person just needs to take care of themselves. People tend to associate mental illnesses with being unproductive, which is completely false. Hopefully, a person who is diagnosed with a mental health problem is receiving the proper care needed; whether that may be therapy, medication, or another form of help.
Within the slide presentation, the presenter included some applications, such as Headspace and Calm, that are meant to help people with their mental health. Even if a person doesn't have a diagnosed mental problem, it's still important to care for your mental health.
The presenter also explained that an RA diagnosed with a mental illness can use their personal experience and knowledge to empathize with their residents who may share the same diagnosis. This technique would require the RA and the resident to feel comfortable with one another and openly talk about their health.
From both perspectives, this method can be beneficial. For the resident, they won't feel alone and they might feel more inclined to work on their mental health issues since they now recognize they have a support system. In the RA's case, they are actively helping their resident and establishing a good connection with them. Even though RAs are not certified therapists, they are expected to help their residents, form trusting relationships with them, and provide them with as many resources as possible.
This isn't just meant for RAs — it applies to anybody in a leadership role. Instead of letting your mental illness define who you are, try using your personal experiences to help your fellow peers. Let them know that they're not alone. Inspire them to be a leader as well, and show them that it's possible to overcome obstacles that you both may share.