March 20, 2014

OH | Cornell and Mental Health: Part Two

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By DON OH

When a death occurs on campus, we get bombarded with emails and posters asserting the importance of “staying in balance.” The messages mainly entail creating a caring community where fellow students look out for each other. But why is it that only in crisis or following a crisis we are reminded to seek help and to seek balance?

Cornell’s “Stress Slope” indicates we should maintain appropriate amount of stress to yield maximum performance. When students spend four years at this institution, academic performance is certainly on top of their priority. To achieve this ideal while enjoying mental well-being, it is crucial to educate ourselves with all the available resource on campus. These tools should be readily employed not only in times of desperation but more ideally before their emergence.

With over 40 practitioners — including psychologists, psychiatrist, social workers and psych nurses — Gannett houses one of the most comprehensive school-affiliated psychological services in the nation. Unlike most other schools that limit the number of individual sessions at around 10, Cornell’s Counseling and Psych­olog­ical Services has no cap and provides continuous care throughout all four years of Cornell, if necessary. Every semester it also offers over a dozen of focus groups that deal with issues as addiction, anxiety, bipolar and eating disorders. The best part is its affordability; CAPS only charges $10 per visit, which can be waived upon request.

Psychotherapy isn’t just about treating diagnosable mental conditions; it is also a form of enrichment to examine your own self through another person’s lens.

In case you become dissatisfied with the service at CAPS, you can get a referral to one of many competent local practitioners. Once again the co-pay is just 10 bucks, thanks to the supreme coverage by Student Health.

Some may uphold an obsolete idea that only “messed-up” people go see a shrink. First of all, I am not going to cast a judgment on you for your parochial upbringing that didn’t recognize clinical psychology as a legitimate medical practice. Secondly, psychotherapy isn’t just about treating diagnosable mental conditions; it is also a form of enrichment to examine your own self through another person’s lens. If you haven’t tried yet, you are missing out.

If you still don’t feel quite comfortable making a formal appointment for whatever reason, simply drop by one of many locations throughout campus where Gannett counselors offer free, confidential consultation called Let’s Talk from 2:30 to 4:30 on every weekday.

At times, however, despite all these layers of institutional supports and physical barricades on the bridges, there may be a moment when all the worldly desires disappear except an unthinkable urge to take drastic action.

When that moment comes, you lose your will to even seek help. But one thing you can do is remove yourself from potentially tempting settings like your empty house and find a public space where other people are present to prevent destructive thoughts from overcoming your rationale.

Last year, I was sitting in my psychiatrist’s office at Gannett for a regular checkup. As a routine procedure, she asked me if I would stay safe over the coming weekend. I don’t know why but I was feeling blue and couldn’t give her a definitive answer. I wasn’t suicidal per se — I had no materialized scheme to carry out nor a strong reason to prefer death over life, but I was simply unsure.

She picked up the phone, consulted with another doctor and decided to call an ambulance. I initially thought she was crazy. I wasn’t experiencing any medical emergency — my physical body was intact; and I wasn’t neurotically jumping and screaming in her office! I was a calm, poised self, simply feeling a bit melancholy. I was outraged by Cornell’s overly hyperbolic response to any implication of “suicidality.”

Once I got transported to Cayuga Medical Center, I was admitted to its behavior unit. I thought that would be the lowest point of my life. How badly must have I screwed up to end up in some “psych ward” infested with psychos! Instead of imaginary psychotic individuals with tilted face and cross eyes, however, I was greeted by half a dozen of normal-looking Cornell students and faculty peeking their heads out to see the newest addition to the group.

The space consisted of courageous, prudent individuals who had made the proactive decision to contain themselves in a safe space because they knew better than to trust their volatile emotions over reason. Believe or not, those three days I had spent in the behavior unit were one of the best times in my life. We played board games, discussed each other’s sex lives and, most importantly, shared our psychological struggles in the most frank, non-judgmental way.

After a few days of rest and peace, I came back to campus and was able to finish that semester on a strong note. Historically, there has been a great deal of shame and guilt in admitting one’s psychological struggle. It’s about time to rid that misplaced attributes and encourage people to be open about receiving help.

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