Leader of the Week – Around the Ivies
For the first edition of Harvard Leadership Magazine’s new Leader of the Week – Around the Ivies feature, we sat down with Philip Claudy (Dartmouth College ’18) who shared with us his personal struggle with depression and the sources from which he draws inspiration.
Please tell us a bit about your experience with depression at Dartmouth.
At Dartmouth (and many other colleges), there exists a high-performance culture that breeds competition and shames struggle. No student wants to admit inability. No student wants to confess that s/he is struggling. No student wants others to think that s/he can’t “handle” the difficulty of an Ivy League education. As a result, any semblance of an emotion other than competency is internalized, repressed, and denied. Individuals can fall into depression for myriad reasons – not just academics. However, the same attitude towards academics and adversity is projected onto mental illness, and the same process takes place – internalization, repression, and denial. My experience at Dartmouth took this exact route. During the fall of my freshman year, I was trying to balance my struggle with my sexuality, a very difficult course load, and the demands of a Division I sports team. I didn’t want my peers to think that I was struggling with anything, to think that I was somehow unable to handle the pressures of school. This fear only served to exacerbate my struggle with my sexuality and brought my depression to a debilitating and life-threatening level. I was afraid to speak out, to admit that depression was impacting my life, to confront the deep and internal dissatisfaction I felt within myself.
What motivated you to take up running in particular?
I kind of just fell into running. Growing up, I was primarily a sprinter on the Track and Field team – the annual mile test in gym class was my worst enemy. Running didn’t take its current form until I got up to Dartmouth and began running as a hobby on the scenic trails that surround the school. After my first run through a hilly and picturesque town in Vermont, I was hooked. Running became much less about the physical turmoil and more about the escape from reality it provided. It became restorative. The longer I could run, the longer I could escape from the prison of my depression, and the more motivated I was to improve my endurance. Running allowed me to project myself into the beauty of the world around me – to be outside of myself and free of my thoughts for about an hour each day. Running was the catalyst that allowed me to acknowledge, confront, and move away from my depression.
You ran the Philadelphia Marathon in late November to raise money for The Trevor Project. Tell us about what The Trevor Project does for LGBT youth.
Primarily, The Trevor Project serves as a suicide hotline for LGBT youth (the Trevor Lifeline) and is available 24/7 to any LGBT individual who is considering self-harm or suicide. Additionally, the organization serves as a resource for anyone who wants to learn about the prevalence of mental illness in the LGBT community, the warning signs of depression and suicide, and how action can be taken before it’s too late. Above all, the Trevor Project aims to change the statistic that finds LGBT youth two to four times more likely to consider suicide than their heterosexual peers. For me, working with The Trevor Project means spreading the organization’s message and doing what I can to prevent LGBT individuals from falling into the vicious cycle of self-hate and chronic dissatisfaction – from considering death as a solution to their depression. Ultimately, my goal is to prevent individuals from being confronted with this decision – from finding themselves in the same situation in which I found myself last winter.
Who do you model yourself after as a leader?
There are many public figures that I could turn to as a source of leadership and inspiration, but I believe that my true role models are found in my friends and family. From my experiences and my upbringing, I have come to admire those who have transcended the obstacles and adversity set before them. To me, this applies to my parents who ran their own business while raising five children; my peers who overcame several financial and societal barriers and became the first in their families to go to college; or my family friends who, despite living with severe mental or physical disabilities, always found a reason to smile. In this way, I find each of these people to be a role model – each is a leader in their own regard. I look to these people as champions of their own adversity – amazing success stories from which I can learn, grow, and challenge myself to be a better person. I value these people in my life very highly and see them as incredible sources of inspiration. I can only hope to adapt the same perseverance and drive that they have exhibited. Each provides me with the motivation to be the best that I can be.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
I have many professional and personal aspirations for myself over the next 10 years. I’d love to be living the quintessential married life in suburban New York and raising children of my own. One day, I want to start and run my own company, just like my grandfather did before me. I want to expand my education beyond my undergraduate years, and I want to continue learning even after I graduate. Additionally, I hope to serve as a role model and advocate for mental health in the LGBT community. More broadly, I want to help further remove the stigma surrounding homosexuality and mental illness in today’s society – I want to effect change. Through sharing my experience with depression and coming to terms with my sexuality, I have realized the incredible impact of sharing experiences with others. Putting emotions into words and telling a story can do so much to help someone going through a similar experience. The LGBT community has so much to offer in this regard, and I hope to draw on the mutual experiences of those in the community in order to help those who are still struggling. Moving forward, I hope to foster and promote this dialogue. I hope to continue sharing and providing support to those who feel lost or alone. I hope to create a support network for individuals who feel like they have no one else.
If you had one piece of advice for a student in college experiencing depression, what would it be?
Depression can take many forms, it can be onset by many sources, and it can affect people in different ways. The combination of these factors makes it hard to define and create a surefire way to treat the symptoms. What is universal, though, is the isolation – the sense of loneliness and hopelessness that permeates every aspect of your being and drives you into suppress how you feel, to hide your depression from the world. My one piece of advice, then, would be to do what your depression doesn’t want you to do: talk about it. Let your friends and family know what you’re struggling with, find people who have also struggled with it, and seek out professional help. Depression is too complex and powerful an illness to tackle on your own. Developing a strong support network is a crucial component of moving forward from your depression. The stigma surrounding mental illness leads individuals to feel ashamed of their struggle, which only serves to strengthen depression’s grip on you. If you keep an open dialogue about your depression, if you are honest with yourself and your support network, you can develop the tools necessary to overcome your depression.