The Mental Health Resources We Gain Through Writing

Lexie Rooks (’24) describes how writing is a support for our mental health. “… we don’t talk about writing for mental health enough as we should. Journaling can come in so many different forms and it doesn’t always have to look like a physical page of writing or an essay.”

“Writing just isn’t my thing.” And I agree that not everyone has to feel like they’re good at it. We all have our weaker qualities whether that’s math or science or english. Regardless, we’ve all had those assignments and essays where we felt like we didn’t really hit the mark. Or our paper wasn’t as strong as the teacher deemed it necessary. None of that equates to how good of a writer you are. There isn’t a certain quality of writing you have to consistently hit, to call yourself a writer. Everyone has something powerful to say and if that doesn’t come through in writing for you, it might for someone else. The amazing thing about it all is that you don’t have to be good at writing to use it to improve your mental health. 

I feel like we don’t talk about writing for mental health enough as we should. Journaling can come in so many different forms and it doesn’t always have to look like a physical page of writing or an essay. It can be big messy words covering pages, points you want to make to yourself, single sentences to help you evaluate your thoughts. The great thing about it all is that nobody has to see it but you. This form of writing can be extremely very personal to someone, since it can help to combat mental health issues or insecurities. It helps someone to learn more about themselves, and to think about why they are feeling the way they do. 

For some people it is a form of therapy, and for some it is just getting their thoughts down on paper. Any form of this is completely valid, and there isn’t a wrong way to journal. We have this misconception that journaling is only for certain people or that there is a correct way to do it. And I am here to tell you that there is not. Since this is something so open ended, many just don’t know where to start. 

Recently, I have been working on finding prompts to help others start their journaling experiences. A few prompts that might give you a slight kick start would be:

  • How would you spend your perfect day off?
  • Talk about something that inspires you
  • List 10 things you want to remember in difficult times
  • What is something or someone that bothers you? Why?
  • Brainstorm some things that you can do for yourself when you are having a hard day
  • Write a love letter to yourself

This is your time to reflect on how you are feeling and the days you are having. It is more than okay if you feel like you are having more bad days than good right now. Growth isn’t always linear but we can use this as a resource for when our minds feel jumbled. Many people feel comfort in taking time for themselves in a way that feels productive. Starting this positive hobby, may be something you never knew you needed. 

Write It Out

Dylan Schueler (’23) writes about the ways that writing and self-expression can support our mental health.

As I assume most people may already know, writing can be used for many different things. It’s something we use in our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. From school assignments, to note taking, to texting friends, to careers, etc. we are constantly writing. However, how often do we write to express ourselves personally? Some people may have diaries, and others may have text strings between their friends that they use to express their feelings, but something that I don’t think is used often enough is mental health journaling. The definition of mental health is “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”. While mental health sometimes seems to have a negative connotation with it, it’s something that every person obtains. It’s also something that is personable and should be expressed rather than kept in. One very beneficial way of expressing thoughts or feelings is through writing or journaling. 

Studies have shown that journaling is very closely affiliated with improving mental health. According to URMC- Rochester University, it can help to manage anxiety, reduce stress, cope with depression, control symptoms, improve your mood, prioritize problems, fears, and concerns, while also allowing for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts. Last year, I decided to devote my badge project in the writing center to creating a safe space for people to express themselves through writing in a practice called “Time To Write It Out”. My main goal was to spread mental health awareness while creating a safe space for people to write about their feelings. I wanted to bring positive attention to peoples’ emotions through writing. Writing is a judgment free space that allows for people to express their emotions to themselves and to those they choose to. It can help people to realize how they actually feel. I wanted to express these benefits through an open writing space during both hours of lunch for multiple sessions. I didn’t want to pressure students to write so there was also a choice of drawing responses to the prompts. Some writing prompt ideas that I had found and used were from Port St. Lucie Hospital. The examples are listed below: 

  1. Talk about your day
  • Try to relate events in your day to how they made you feel. It can help you identify trends in your behaviors and how those impact your mental health. 
  1. Identify things you’re grateful for
  • Finding things you can be grateful for may be difficult when you have a mental illness, but by recognizing reasons to be grateful, you can start to create a more positive outlook on life. 
  1. Describe a goal
  • What are you working towards? Write it out and explain how you’re going to reach that goal. “Dreams don’t chase you back,” so don’t be afraid to go after what you want. Keep only positive goals to help you stay motivated. 
  1. Write a list of your coping mechanisms
  • Evaluate which mechanisms are working for you. Rate each coping mechanism on a scale of 0-5 to see which one helps to calm you down the most. This will show you what coping mechanisms can stay, and which ones should maybe be retired. 
  1. Write about how different you were 5 years ago
  • Everyone is constantly changing. It can be easy to forget when you’re dealing with mental health or stress. Try to recognize the ways that you’ve grown over the years. Give yourself credit for being better and wiser than you were. 
  1. Write a letter to your body
  • Mental illness often changes the way you perceive yourself and your body. Whether you want to write a love letter, some complaints, or a letter of apology, it’s important to address your body image. If you can recognize issues in your relationship with your body, then you can work toward fixing them.
  1. List and describe your emotions
  • What did you feel like today? List out every emotion that you went through and describe how it felt in that moment. This tool will help you identify the causes of your emotions and how you’re responding to them. 
  1. Write about how you’d describe yourself to a stranger
  • If you were going to explain who you are to a stranger, how would that go? What are your likes, dislikes, your strengths, or your weaknesses? Writing this prompt can go a long way in helping you identify how you think of yourself. 
  1. Describe the best compliment you’ve ever gotten or the best one you’ve ever given
  • What was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? Or what was the nicest thing you have ever said to someone? How did it make you/ them feel, and how did that moment play out? 
  1. Write a message for yourself on bad days 
  • Bad mental health days happen, and there isn’t much you can do to prevent them. However, you can prepare for them by writing a message to yourself. The message can look however you want; remind yourself of happier times, point out good things in your life, and do whatever you think will mean the most to you when you’re in a bad place. 

After hosting some sessions of writing spaces, I thought that it was really beneficial. Though it was a very small turnout, I felt as though I learned a lot about what it means to benefit from writing. It’s a tool that I wanted to share with others and spread awareness around. If you ever find yourself struggling to express how you feel, or if you’re stuck between a decision, or you just have free time, try writing out your thoughts and feelings! You never know how much something can impact you until you try it!

The Hidden Costs of Standardized Tests During a Pandemic

Claire Kozma (’22) writes that standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic instigates student anxiety much beyond the test material


By: Claire Kozma (’22)
First-Year Tutor

I remember dusting off my brother’s old SAT prep book from the basement in the beginning of my months-long SAT slog. I felt an overwhelming rush of intimidation: this thing must be 10 pounds. Inside were already a plethora of folded pages, red and black pen markings, and math scribbles.

It was the winter of 2021, in the midst of a large COVID-19 spike, SAT test center closings, and a full year of virtual school–for me, it was my junior year. At that point, not only did I have to navigate scheduling an SAT test as the seats filled quickly, but I had to keep myself safe, especially since the vaccine hadn’t yet been approved for people my age. Through isolation, the nudging of deadlines and scores, and AP coursework, the stress of life was debilitating. The SAT only added to the mess.

A number of universities announced a “test optional” option for students applying for admission, however, I had a nagging worry: am I hindering my chances of being admitted without a score? A large number of students shared the same concern; many felt that they couldn’t “compete at their best” without an SAT score as “proof” of qualification. I felt unsure.

Regardless of any independent college’s decision, for the millions still taking the test, why has – even amidst a global pandemic–the testing process that students are coerced to endure remained almost completely unchanged? Think about this for a moment.

Through worldwide school shutdowns, deaths, and millions out of work, what I found most startling was how unaltered the SAT process was. Sign-ups for tests were in full swing. Like I mentioned before, seats were still being taken rapidly. Social media continued to be filled with ads for classes: “We guarantee a 1500+!” or “Get into college with a perfect score!”. People paid for private tutors, signed up for the ACT and/or SAT several times, and bought every prep book available online. The students who chose to post their scores online–most of which were nearly perfect–seemed to have these resources. As a student existing in isolation, the world of standardized testing seemed to hurdle forward faster than I could keep up.

Particularly in a time when we’re completely shifted digitally, viewing these numbers, ads, and posts frequently on social media created a tremendous amount of pressure to perform and invest. As a person who didn’t spend money on prep, I felt unsettled, as if I were doing something wrong or missing something. I’m definitely not alone: many students feel that they can’t achieve a “good enough score” if they don’t throw $1,000 into a “premium” prep class. I also didn’t feel safe going to in-person prep classes, not to mention sit for a real SAT test. It was a stretch for me, as I was in contact with at-risk people in my home.

Here’s the catch about pricey SAT prep classes: they teach students how to memorize the test mechanics, not improve on their academic skills. They show students how to see through the questions, not actually understand a passage. Students, then, spend money to “train” how to beat the test, not how to grow as a critical thinker. What does this say about the SAT metrics itself, then? Exactly – it’s a game.

On the day of my first SAT in the spring of 2021, I drove 45 minutes to the nearest testing center. I was jittery. I was required to bring an ID, TI-84, No. 2 pencils, and a mask (which I had brought 4, just in case). This was the first time I’d gone out publicly for a year – to the day. Taking the test put me in a high-risk situation: I had never been to the location, nor knew any of the people there. At seven in the morning, I found myself clumped with over a hundred people. I was then placed in a room of 30 others for over five hours. My glasses were fogging up, my head was spinning–some of which was induced by the test, yes, but much of it was the fact I was surrounded by strangers during a major spike of the pandemic. I put a lot of trust into my mask.

I’m unsettled to know that millions of other kids are also impacted negatively by the standardized testing process, on top of the pandemic we continue to battle. Similar to what I felt on my test day, students are anxious about a multitude of things. And the cost? We can acknowledge the financial burden of test taking and prep (which, by the way, is unreasonable for many families), but I’m referring to the less discussed cost: self esteem.

Amidst the noise, my self confidence became tangled with these numbers and scores floating around, which although arbitrary, had been pushed into my head so many times that I slowly began to feel behind. On top of my schoolwork, expectations at home, and COVID-19, standardized testing only added to my isolation. My mental and physical health suffered tremendously.

Unfortunately, my experience is an extremely common one.

What we continue to dig through is no easy feat. I want to emphasize checking in with those around you as we maneuver the pandemic; it’s incredibly important to give ourselves space to process emotions. I hope my experience sheds light on the deeper harm of standardized testing, especially to students simultaneously facing the uncertainty of COVID-19. What students continue to endure cannot go unspoken.