Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

Spring 2016

Thesis Advisor

Frances Barg


This paper explores the social and cultural factors that influence how students present themselves publicly and privately in terms of mental health at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). It represents a case study of a specific time and place – this particular university during the spring of 2016. Recently, Penn culture has been criticized for causing or exacerbating issues related to students’ mental health in the wake of renewed fervor and passion for issues of student mental wellness. In this study I heard about the idea of the Penn Face, about sources of stress stemming from academics and other structures, and about the deep and profound fear of showing any sort of vulnerability. Penn culture exists in a series of tensions – between problematizing / vilifying the Penn culture in regard to treatment of mental health issues and acknowledging a more complicated notion of causality of mental health; between personal vulnerability versus a desire to have it all together (or to appear as though one does); and between acknowledging issues of mental health versus effecting real change. Through the use of qualitative data analysis and over the course of twenty-two semi-structured interviews, I have attempted to understand what is influencing how my fellow students are negotiating structures of mental health at present. Trigger Warning: mental health, suicide, depression, anxiety, self-harm, sexual abuse, and sexual assault

Included in

Anthropology Commons



Date Posted: 08 June 2016


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