College can be an overwhelming and stressful experience for anyone. Add in a senior year of high school spent on Zoom, a freshman year of college with social distancing and a class schedule filled with some of the most rigorous courses on campus, it’s not hard to guess the impact it could have on any student.
Gabriel Lefebvre knows what it’s like to struggle with mental health. As a third-year student majoring in mechanical engineering, it’s been hard to figure out the schoolwork and social life balance that comes with such an intense major.
Lefebvre comes from a family of engineers, so it’s not surprising that he was drawn to the College of Engineering when coming to Penn State.
“My entire family was born with a brain that thinks like an engineer,” Lefebvre says. “My dad is an engineer, my brother’s an engineer, my mom’s an engineer.”
His brother was the one who inspired him to come to Penn State. Being five years older, he had already graduated college by the time Lefebvre was deciding where to go to school. He had attended Penn State and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering as well, something that Lefebvre says helped him determine where to go to school.
“I always looked up to him so much when I was little, but I started discussing with him my feelings about going through the major, about life and situations. It was really eye-opening to me,” Lefebvre says. “He has been such a guiding light for me, just going through life I guess.”
Coming into Penn State, however, he struggled with the rigor of his class schedule and the intensity of assignments, exams and homework. He found it hard to balance the many things he wanted to do, which led to a lot of added stress.
“Going into the major, I really struggled with balancing my life. It was either 100 percent school where I would always be at high-stress levels, just unable to have an outlet to bring that stress out. I would come back home, and I’d be constantly thinking about math and science, and it gets clouded sometimes.”
Growing up, therapy and mental health wasn’t something discussed much in his life. Lefebvre said his teachers never specifically addressed mental health in class, and schools tended to gloss over the subject.
When the stress was too much, Lefebvre turned to art to handle his emotions. He started drawing and doodling in his note margins during his classes and while doing homework. While he was only drawing simple pictures of raccoons running around or people listening to music, Lefebvre felt that this creative outlet allowed him to get his emotions out of his head and onto the page.
Eventually, I think with time, those stresses and emotions I kind of felt were leaving my body, and into the pen, and into my creative work.
Lefebvre also got into photography, using this new artistic medium to express himself in a new way. These creative outlets made him realize something. We all experience emotions, but we sometimes don’t have the tools to express them and articulate how we’re feeling. For someone who isn’t good with words, a creative process such as drawing or photography can provide an outlet to express yourself and understand your emotions.
“Personally, I suck with words, and I suck at describing things. But I think I make that up in my life by putting that in a creative medium, whether that be photography or any other medium I’ve picked up over time,” Lefebvre says.
Art provided an outlet for Lefebvre to express himself and his emotions while doing something he was passionate about and interested in. He says that while this creative expression has helped him with his struggles, he also credits therapy for allowing him to deal with his emotions, ultimately changing his college experience for the better.
“It has been such a huge help in just, you know, regulating emotions and all that. Just being able to hone in and focus,” Lefebvre says.
While mental health is becoming an important and highly discussed topic in our world, Lefebvre says there are still many stigmas and stereotypes attached to it, which he believes should change.
“With males, it’s not talked about at all. I know for some of my female friends, it’s something that’s really supported.” Lefebvre explains. “With guys, you just don’t hear a peep. Even when I talk about it with my friends, it’s just kind of awkward.”
For Lefebvre, therapy is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. He encourages others who are struggling to talk about their feelings or figure out the right tools to express their emotions.
It’s okay to ask for help. You’re your own person; you have your own needs; go get what you need in order to be functional.
While a creative outlet, such as drawing or photography, might not be the right thing for everyone, Lebefvre encourages each student to find something that they’re passionate about. Look for something interesting to you and try it out. Whether it be a new trend you saw on TikTok or a recommendation from a friend, always be willing to try new things. You never know when you might find something that takes away those stressors in life.
“If you find yourself feeling stressed, if you find yourself kind of pent up and you’re not really sure how to bring that out, just try something that’s always interested you. It might not be your best work, but over time you might create something beautiful and that resonates with you,” Lefebvre says. “It doesn’t have to be good, but other people might find a message within that.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health problems, there are always ways to get help. Use these resources to find help for you, a friend or a family member in need.
Penn State Crisis Line: 1-877-229-6400 or tex “LIONS” to 741741
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988
Pennsylvania’s Support and Referral Helpline: 855-284-2494
Centre County Crisis Hotline: 800-643-5432