Writer Sara Benincasa speaks on college struggles
Published: Friday, September 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Critically acclaimed author, comedian and blogger Sara Benincasa gave a lecture in the MUB Wednesday night, discussing mental health and how students at UNH can face it, particularly under the academic and social pressure of college life.
Benincasa, whose memoir “Agorafabulous” came out this year, details her own struggle with agoraphobia, anxiety and depression. She shared some of her own experiences and answered questions from students in attendance, both by way of raising hands as well as anonymously. Health Services, the MUB and the Counseling Center organized the lecture.
Benincasa, who has a master’s degree in secondary school education from Teachers College at Columbia University, said she has a passion mentoring for college-aged kids, and she hopes that her story can help those struggling with mental illness to fight through what can be a debilitating experience.
“Maybe hearing my story would help someone,” Benincasa said. “I think of how I was when I was in college and how I wish I had someone to speak to me about this kind of thing, and so if I could be that person to someone else, that’s really rewarding to me.”
The 50 or so students who attended Wednesday’s speech responded well to Benincasa. Many were there merely to see a comedy show, as Benincasa made sure to include her brand of her humor, while others openly asked questions in regard to their own fight with depression and anxiety.
“(I liked) the fact that she was able to relate how her life was to how our lives are during school,” Dean Merrill, a UNH senior, said.
Merrill said his mother and sister have struggled with anxiety, and hearing Benincasa helped him understand what they went through.
“It answered questions that I wouldn’t probably have actively sought out, and now that I know the answer, I can maybe feel a little more compassion for my mother and sister,” Merrill said.
“I wish more people had been there,” Sam Barnes, a junior at UNH, said after the lecture. “A lot of college students, they come through and they aren’t really aware of what’s available to them when they’re feeling under pressure.”
“(I appreciate) her candid sharing of her own struggles with mental health and her path to manage this part of her life,” Kathleen Grace-Bishop, director of education and promotion at UNH’s Health Services said. “I think when we share our stories openly it can be so helpful to those of us who are also living with a mental health concern.”
Benincasa said that writing her memoir was a struggle at times, recalling moments that caused trauma for her, especially as a college student.
“It was difficult at times,” Benincasa said. “Because I had to relive going through a nervous breakdown, and that was really tough to relive. That was daunting. But I’m glad that I did it because it yielded a lot of other benefits.”
Benincasa has received praise and appreciation for her memoir through many fan letters, she said. One that recently touched her was from a mother who read it and said it helped her better understand her daughter’s struggle with anxiety.
A big key, Benincasa said, is empathy.
“A lot of people who are in adolescence need empathy,” Benincasa said. “And they need someone who is older but can still relate to what they are going through, and I try to be that person as much as possible.”