A graduate of medical school, Alyse Schacter travels to have conversations about mental health and its stigma.
As part of IZE Week, Schacter spoke to more than 20 students in attendance about her mental health journey and how to be open about the conversation.
Schacter’s mental health hasn’t always been a smooth road. Developing significant OCD at the age of 12, Schacter dealt with intrusive impulsions and worries about hurting inanimate objects.
Schacter said her passion about mental health stemmed from her journey with her own mental health. She began traveling at the age of 16 to discuss the mental health stigma.
Schooling was never an easy time for Schacter. She said her intrusive impulsions made her act in ways that would seem odd to her fellow seventh grade classmates.
“I would be worried I was hurting the ground when I walked,” Schacter said. “I would get on my hands and knees and feel the ground, because I felt bad.”
Not sure what to do or how to talk to her peers, Schacter’s mom talked to her classmates about OCD and what Schacter was going through.
While Schacter noted that some friends weren’t as understanding, many of her classmates were incredibly supportive of her, creating a schedule to give her piggyback rides to class so she didn’t have to touch the floor.
Schacter’s parents preached a culture of openness, encouraging her to talk openly about her struggles to those she became close to.
“Not everyone’s willing to help, but people that are, are fantastic,” Schacter said.
Despite setbacks in grade school, Schacter attended adult high school at the age of 19, eventually getting accepted into medical school to work towards her dream of becoming a doctor.
Still practicing openness about her mental health, Schacter wondered how she would manage her journey. Going to school to become a doctor, Schacter said she felt ashamed that she was helping other people when she needed help herself.
Looking back, Schacter said that professionals questioned if medical school was the right option for her with her OCD.
“It’s like a trap,” Schacter said. “It’s like there’s something inherently wrong with me.”
Schacter isn’t the only person to carry that mindset. She said that she’s open about her struggles because if she doesn’t do it, then she doesn’t expect others to be open about it.
Schacter understands that sometimes it can be hard to open up to others and believes it’s because not many people know what to say to someone who is struggling.
Engaging with the campus community is one way that Schacter believes people can become more open. She also emphasized being more aware of those around, thinking about your friends and challenging ourselves to ask how others are doing.
“You don’t want to deal with it alone,” Schacter said. “You shouldn’t have to.”
Although Schacter said there were times during medical school where she felt alone, she had a roommate who supported her throughout her journey.
There was a period during medical school where Schacter was doing poorly and went home, not sure if she would have to leave school. She said she left her room a disaster, but when she returned, her roommate had reorganized and cleaned her entire room.
Schacter said that her roommate wasn’t the type of person to verbally ask if Schacter was okay but found that helping Schacter clean was something she could do to help her during her journey.
“I don’t know if I could have finished medical school without her,” Schacter said.
Helping others and being a support system for them is something that Schacter agrees with, but also made sure that students know they need to care for themselves too.
Students in attendance said that they use the resources they preach to others, share struggles with a group of friends and remind themselves that it’s okay to not be okay.
Schacter said that people rarely sit in silence and think about themselves and how they’re doing. She said it’s important to remind yourself that it’s alright to feel bad sometimes.
“We try to push emotions aside,” Schacter said. “But you don’t try to push aside a stomachache. You can’t.”
Similarly to not ignoring or pushing down physical conditions, Schacter said people need to embrace their authenticity and be real, making it easier to talk about their challenges.
However, asking others to open up may not come easy for everyone Schacter reminded the audience. Some people may reject help, which Schacter said could be a reflection of what they’re going through.
Schacter said that even if people reject approaches of help, it is always important to be kind and check on them.
“Anytime you show someone kindness, it becomes part of their DNA,” Schacter said. “Although from a medical perspective that doesn’t make any sense.”
Schacter encourages students to not only check in on their friends and classmates, but to become educated on mental health, providing the CDC page on mental health as an excellent choice for resources and information.
“We don’t have an excuse anymore to not be educated on mental health.”