Kieran Davidson, PΔ ’21, has been the #1 at Alpha Rho Delta at Miami University since the spring of 2020. He recently had a personal mental health epiphany after COVID-19 shuttered his campus and Alpha in the spring. Br. Davidson came to us asking if we would share his story to encourage more young men and Chi Psi Brothers to seek out the help of therapists and counselors during these transformative and often difficult college years. Below is a lightly edited version of our Q&A.
Chi Psi: Kieran, thanks for taking the time to openly chat about this! Can you start by just giving us a little bit of background about yourself and the topic at hand?
Kieran Davidson: Sure! Well, first of all, I’m most certainly an extrovert. I’m motivated by the people I’m surrounded with and that’s something Chi Psi has given back to me. Living in the Lodge and being the leader of 80 quality gentlemen on Miami’s campus is the thing that keeps me going. Before COVID-19, interacting with those guys on a daily basis and having small conversations and sharing meals with them kept the flame lit for me. Transitioning from that to an empty Lodge and going back to live with my parents was a huge readjustment for me.
XΨ: What made you want to share your story with a wider audience?
KD: First of all, I recognize that I am a very vulnerable person who wears his heart on his sleeve. And because of that, that gives me an opportunity to give back and do something with this. I also want to share my success. I want to empower my Brothers in Chi Psi across the country. I want them to know that it is cool to go to counseling. A #1 of an Alpha went to counseling. Everyone thinks we have our stuff together as #1’s. And I do, but it’s still okay to go to counseling. It doesn’t matter who you are or how put together you feel.
XΨ: You said the time off after COVID-19 was difficult, and you broke it down into a few phases. Can you elaborate?
KD: First, I had to do my schoolwork and get to making action plans for the Alpha in a virtual setting. I also had to communicate to stakeholders, connect Brothers to each other, and do it all without delegating too many tasks to the rest of my team. There was a lot of pressure on me. Next – and this was a really painful one – I had an internship in Manhattan this summer that was very difficult to land, and it was turned into a virtual setting, too. Instead of wearing a suit and walking on Wall Street after all my hard work to earn the internship, I was doing Zoom calls in pajama pants in my Mom’s basement. Finally, I describe myself as a workhorse, and this was the first time in a few years that I had nothing to do for work. That was lonely, and hard to overcome the disappointment of not being able to experience things as they were and not being able to interact with my Brothers in the same capacity.
XΨ: At what point did you realize you wanted to seek out help?
KD: I could feel the stress starting to get to me, and I had all these emotions like getting easily irritated about the dumbest things, or just feeling numb some days. I was so unsure about why I was feeling those ways, and became constantly worried about coming back to campus, the response of the university, and more. I started having trouble sleeping and that’s when I realized it was not a healthy routine and that something bigger was going on. So, I called the counseling center at Miami and they got me in the next day.
XΨ: You worked as the Mental Health Chair at Rho Delta before becoming #1, right? How did that experience factor in?
KD: Yes, the wonderful thing about Rho Delta is that we are very open about mental health. We are advocates for mental health with college-aged men, and that was one thing that reassured me when I initially went out for Chi Psi. These guys don’t just say they care, they have actual forums in place to make sure everyone’s doing okay and so we can talk about our problems. So, in my role as Mental Health Chair, I made sure that wherever we met was sacred and private and that everyone in the room was respectful of each other. I learned a lot through that experience, like the things young, college-aged men go through that people don’t really consider. I also made sure we used all campus resources that were available when I was in that role. So, I had the information and tools when I wanted to call for myself, and it couldn’t have been easier.
XΨ: Tell us about that first counseling experience.
KD: I had an initial consultation with a counselor who is a fellow Fraternity man, and I was floored with how quickly I was able to get in front of someone, talk through some things, and surrender to my emotions. I realized after talking to him that I have mild anxiety, which is something I never would have considered, since it’s so opposite of my personality. At first, I had some scary thoughts, like “are they going to lock me up and prescribe a bunch of drugs?” But I can say after a few meetings, I felt like a totally different person.
XΨ: How so?
KD: The counselor suggested a few different exercises that have really helped. Now that we’re a few weeks into school, there is more stress on my shoulders than there were this summer, but because of that experience taking care of my mental health, I’ve been able to handle the stress really well. On my last session with the counselor, I realized I was doing way better and suggested that I only come to him on an as-needed basis. I didn’t totally have to cut it out, but I can take time to use the exercises they gave me and try to center myself.
XΨ: Can you share some of those exercises that have worked so well for you?
KD: I’ve been practicing something called mindfulness. Between being #1, trying to get a full time job during a pandemic, being a student, being a son, a Brother, etc., I was always just on to the next responsibility. I never really enjoyed what I was doing in the moment. Mindfulness is a lot like meditation and it’s one of my favorite things to do now. Instead of sitting in my living room or bedroom to have a cup of coffee, I walk to a park near my house in Oxford and sit on a bench alone. I either listen to a guided meditation or relaxing music like Cat Stevens or The Eagles. The whole point is to live in the moment; to try to understand how you’re feeling right now. You want that physical sensation of sitting on a park bench, feeling the breeze, and being grounded to the earth. The other part is just to admire what you’re seeing. Oxford isn’t Los Angeles or Nashville, but it’s a beautiful college campus, so I try to enjoy the nature and the architecture of Oxford and celebrate how it all relates to my experience in Chi Psi.
XΨ: Very cool! And you feel this has improved your mental health?
KD: Definitely. Before going to counseling, I would always wake up early to try and use every minute of my day, but I learned that it’s give and take. It’s okay to work hard, and you should work hard for things you care about, but you also have to give yourself time to relax. This lifestyle I was living where I’d wake up at 6 every morning to work all day, socialize all night with friends, go to sleep at 1 a.m., and then wake up five hours later…it was almost like I was in a tornado and couldn’t get out of it. I didn’t even realize how much I was wearing down my mental health.
XΨ: It’s safe to say you’re a major proponent of seeking mental health help now?
KD: Before going to counseling, I thought it was a good thing that I personally didn’t need. Then I went, and I thought, “wow, nobody should feel like they can’t go to counseling!” The progress I made was incredible. I feel completely different in a lot of ways. I am absolutely a proponent of it.
XΨ: You mention that stigma about receiving mental health assistance. Did you deal with that before, or now? If so, how did you get past it?
KD: It’s almost ironic. When I was Mental Health Chair, my main goal was to defeat that stigma, at least within our Alpha. I’d always been an advocate for counseling and would suggest that my Brothers seek it out when necessary. I also had my own feelings about the idea of what is “masculine,” and largely rejected the idea that you should just “man up” or “rub some dirt on it.” But I still struggled with the stigma. It was one thing to tell someone else it’s okay to go to counseling, but I needed to ask myself if I would go. Mental health is just as important in your routine – whether you have mild anxiety or severe depression – as anything else. It’s part of being a good, healthy human and a good man. I think that self-reflection is how we defeat the stigma.
XΨ: What’s your parting message to your fellow Chi Psis about seeking help for mental health?
KD: Well, first of all, I just hope people realize that this is a difficult time for everyone. Don’t be a jerk. Love one another, practice empathy, and wear a mask. It’s not that hard. But, anyway, it’s insane how much progress and change can occur in just a few weeks. Even though I felt crazy going to the first appointment, it was such a relief to let it all out. It gets you excited to go back to your next session. Even if you have to do it virtually like I did, the words and feelings you can exchange are so valuable. I also try to preach to my guys at Rho Delta the benefits of programs like Talkspace that the Central Office offers us. I hope people read this and understand that it’s okay to seek out help with their mental health, and to utilize those resources that are readily available!