Stress Eats: Defeating the Mental Health Stigma, One Bite at a Time

Do you remember the last thing you ate? You probably do. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably already posted it on some form of social media. Food is a huge social conduit -- in fact, the most common question I’m asked about Ann Arbor is what the food scene is like. I’ve forged friendships over a mutual love of Blank Slate, shared too many laughable memories at Pizza House, and ran into every single person I’ve ever met at Amer’s at one point or another. Food is universally loved. Mental health discourse isn’t.

My name is Emily Hein, and I struggle with Anxiety and Depression. I’m not a basket case, I’m not overtly draining or manipulative, I won’t be crying every time you see me. I’m just an average college student living a relatively average life, who happens to be affected by two mental health disorders. Just like you, I go to class, I have an awesome group of friends here, and I live for gameday. Yet, when I speak openly about my mental health experiences, I can quite literally feel people seeing me differently. I can preemptively feel the eye rolls when I’m too anxious to go out, or when I tell people that studying abroad wasn’t, in fact, the absolute time of my life. Mental health is so stigmatized that we are conditioned not only to hide our own experiences, but to encourage others to do so as well.

Enter, Stress Eats. An unshakeable anxious spell last October left me feeling an intense need to talk: To confide in others about my mental health experiences, and in return, have others understand why I feel the way I often feel. The overthinking spiral that I’m, more often than not, inflicted by turned a dire need into an answerable question: why can’t we discuss mental health as frequently and as openly as we discuss food? Perhaps a comparison between the two -- highlighting the fact that the number of people who struggle with their mental health is actually pretty close to the number of people who sit down for dinner each night -- would leave the opportunity to educate others on how mental health functions. A few hours later, a budding idea evolved into a weekly blog that contrasts conversations about anxiety with photos of food, reminding others that the frequency and positivity heard in these two discourses can, and should, be equal.

Stress Eats is written in an effort to educate, but not to preach. Whether I’m using food puns as segues into photos, poking appropriate fun at myself in topic sentences, or captioning social media posts with a playful tone, I try to destigmatize and expose mental health without the typically associated negative connotation. A new topic is tackled each week, from embarrassment, to overthinking, to acceptance. Every four weeks -- I eliminate the food photos altogether and let mental health shine on its own.

Fast forward to August 2018, and Stress Eats is loved by my friends and family. Weekly suggestions for topics filter in, people comment and share. Not only are people engaging with mental health discourse, but they’re admitting that it’s something they’re also affected by. I can only hope that Stress Eats continues to grow, and its impact in destigmatizing mental health is as effective as it could possibly be. I could not be more thrilled to be bringing Stress Eats to Mentality, and I’m eager to bring some food for thought to U-M.