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I'm from a pretty judgmental area on Long Island. I've grown up with perspective, but also very aware of the "normal".  A lot of people around where I live have plastic surgery to change what they don't like about themselves- teens included. There was even a double digit club in one town nearby, where, to belong to this club, high schoolers kept their weights in the "double digits" (they talk about it here- http://www.fegs.org/news_events/032102.cfm).  But, on Long Island, this isn't abnormal. What's abnormal here, or at least hushed, is talking about things that make people less beautiful, or less perfect, like mental disorders. So, when I came to college, I came with little discussion experience in terms of mental health.  It seemed that no one brought it up, because no one wanted to be associated with it. In retrospect, I think my school and community had a real problem with eating disorders. Fad diets were more than popular, and the more extreme the diet, the more often the more extreme results, which, more often than not, led to praise, jealousy, and behavior imitation from other students. It makes me wonder how, especially when you're young, you can distinguish between "normal" or "typical development"vs. phases which may be damaging, vs. potentially extremely damaging more long-term behaviors that can become defining traits/characteristics. I knew people who did and took unhealthy things to change their bodies in high school, and I knew they were unhealthy behaviors. Interestingly, I've also been able to see how their behaviors have changed as they aged.  I think for most people at my school, the eating issues and fads and drugs were phases. Maybe they were distractions, to get through high school, to find a group, to gain acceptance, etc. Eating disorders are considered mental health disorders, but much attention wasn't paid to them in my school, and I think maybe that's what led to me viewing mental health the way I did- as quick, definable phases, that would happen, and then eventually be done, rather than as significant problems. In high school, everything seemed like phases. We were told we were in adolescence, perhaps the most up and down and everywhere phase, made up of phases, and not to worry, because eventually we would be secure and stable with our identities. I think I grew up thinking that everything would always be a phase, and that even if we were having trouble in that phase, we would learn and grow form it, and then we would move on to the next phase.  A little too idealistic perhaps, but the idea of viewing life as various phases has, I think, been useful.

When I entered college, I assumed my ways of thinking would change, my thoughts about reality, and my version of the world would change, as all would be phases of some bigger picture.  Though I became a psychology major before taking this class, this class was the most in depth to psychology and mental health I've ever taken. It took me awhile to understand and realize that mental health, in this environment, wasn't completely taboo, was a real, concern-worthy issue, and had an open discussion forum, available, and occurring. I had the option of whether to resort back to what I've seen, and actually be the judgmental one, or the one "above it all", as I'd become accustomed to seeing so much, or whether I could sit down and listen and have my own opinions and think of this not as a taboo topic, but as something that everyone faces in their lives, through one way or another, something that goes on in our minds- and who doesn't want to explore their minds- and the minds of others, and especially "problems" within the mind? So interesting! I think this experience was so valuable to me because of my upbringing within my community. I was never one to judge, and I've seen my fair share of mental health issues, and perhaps it was this combination that made this experience so much more real than I think it would have been otherwise, as just a story that couldn't be related to. While my family is far from what I think of as Long Island typical (which is not to say all of Long Island is like this, because much isn't), in many communities and schools, the imperfect is quieted down, and we're led to believe that perfection is attainable, even desirable to attain.  This class has not only allowed and encouraged me to explore mental health issues, but has also allowed ourselves to debate things with each other that some of us- or at least I know I have- taken as give-ins. I leave with a view of mental health not as a contagious disorder, or as something taboo at all, but more of an interesting concept, with a broad range of issues all open to interpretation, leaving room, but paving the way, for more discussion next semester.

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