Interview with Lars Ellwanger, Lars (He/Him/His) Freshman, Psychology
by Sari Schuman(She/Her/Hers) Freshman, Secondary Education
- What personal experience or journey brought you into your current role at SUNY New Paltz?
SUNY New Paltz was my first choice for college because of how accepting it is here and the amount of nature such as rock climbing and hiking in the area.
- What issues or challenges are you confronted with?
I have to deal with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, as well as taking medication for them. Throughout my whole life and predominantly in my high school years I had to deal with anxiety and depression.
- Why do these challenges exist?
I must deal with these issues because of trauma that I have had in my past, as well as genetics that run in the family.
- What challenges exist in the larger system?
I think that a challenge that exists in the larger system is that there is a stigma behind mental health and that people are not very willing to talk about it. This causes mental health illnesses to become worse. I know that these challenges exist in the larger system because I am faced with them first-hand, but I also want to acknowledge that there are issues such as racism and sexism that exist in the system. Because I am not directly impacted by them, because of my race and gender, and where I grew up, they are not as obvious to me. I have not spent as much time thinking about them in my own life.
- What are the blockages?
Mental health is hidden, and you never know what is going on with somebody inside their head or how they are feeling. That can cause people to feel isolated because they are unaware that people may feel the same as them.
- What are your most important sources of success and change?
One of my best friends passed away on my 17th birthday while hiking. He was an especially important source of success and change to me because I looked up to him like an older brother. He introduced me to many things such as climbing, which has played a huge role in my life. He was the first person that I could talk to about my mental health and even his own mental health issues as well. He taught me that it is okay to feel the way that I did with my mental health.
- What would a better (university or community) system look like for you?
A better system would be that people are able to openly talk about mental health and not be embarrassed or ashamed of it because it is normal.
- If you could change just a few elements of the system, what would you change?
I think that if just one thing should change that it would be a decreased stigma around mental health.
- What initiative, if implemented, would have the greatest impact on you? For the system as a whole?
I think that informational boards or posters in dorms are a great way to inform people about mental health, which would be the first step in getting rid of the stigma around it.
- Who else do we need to talk to? (optional)
I think that elderly people could be better informed about today’s mental health issues.
- What was most surprising or unexpected?
What was surprising and unexpected was the photoshoot that my partner wanted to create. He wanted to recreate John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s photo. Lars and his girlfriend recreated that photo. It was surprising and unexpected, but I thought it was highly creative of him.
- What touched me? What connected with me personally?
What touched me was the fact that my partner had gone through a lot of past traumas in his life. I would have never known that he had lost someone he had cared so deeply about when he was only 17. It touched me that I could understand more of what he went through. What connected with me personally was that my partner was incredibly open to how he has multiple mental illnesses and how he takes medication for them. I also have multiple mental illnesses which I take medication for. This connected with me because I have struggled with my mental illnesses all my life, as Lars has too.
- Moving in and out of your interviewee’s field, what did you notice about yourself?
Moving in and out of my interviewee’s field, I noticed that I have patience for others’ creative ideas. I was patient with what Lars wanted to create with his photos, and I noticed that I was able to connect with somebody who was only a stranger to me. I noticed that I could connect with people even when I met them for the first time.