The paradox of mental health services, generally, hovers around the issue of consent. Most mental health services require voluntary participation from the patient, except in extreme cases. Thus, the question becomes, how can someone suffering from mental illness possess the wherewithal to seek help? Even those who are not clinically ill, but just unstable, may feel that the stigma attached to mental health services is a huge repellent. In light of the Virginia Tech Massacre, all educational institutions should begin to reconsider old notions surrounding mental health and seek to make services more accessible to students.
Issues of mental health are sorely misunderstood in this country, and not all medications and treatments are covered under insurance — emphasizing the cultural and political neglect of these matters. The fact that Cho Seung-Hui could fall through the cracks of a well-structured institution, such as a university, should be a Big Red Flag to all academic administrators to seriously address issues surrounding counseling services. The reality is that most students suffering from mental health related problems will not turn into Cho; however, they may fall through the cracks without such a “bang,” if you will.
Counseling services at universities should not be reserved for the deeply troubled, but should be open and generally administered like the flu shot. Clearly, just as with the flu shot, counseling must be voluntary on the part of the students. Students should feel free to visit a counselor without fear of censure from peers. Hmmm … this isn’t so easy.
In terms of Gannett specifically, the first item of business should be that of privacy. For instance, I went in for a routine physical, and as I was walking away from the counter, the lady yelled out, “Oh by the way do you want to be tested for HIV today?!?!?!?” Wow, now that everyone in the lobby is staring at me, I really feel comfortable answering that question. I meekly replied, “Not today, thanks.”
I did go back to get tested by the way, because I am vigilant about taking care of my health, and the HIV form was bright orange with “HIV testing” written in huge black letters. Cool, then for a normal exam there is a paper with a giant diagram of a vagina … excellent. So clearly I just had to run into some guy I was vaguely interested in, clutching my vagina diagram and bright orange HIV testing form to my chest. Yeah, as if that’s not obvious. Then to get the results, you have to go back to Gannett and have a long chat about sex with a nurse, or better yet, a peer-advisor — who you can run into at the bars (not a bright idea, Gannett). Dude, testing is the reality of any sexually active adult, and in my opinion, the less fuss made of it, the better.
In addition, Gannett ought to work on ensuring the privacy of its patients and should recognize that this issue is exceedingly important given that universities function socially like small towns, i.e. everyone is in everyone’s business. Perhaps, for instance, you shouldn’t have to give your name at the counter, but rather just the time of the appointment and the doctor’s name. That’s an itty-bitty step I know, but it would help. Also, don’t play obnoxious rock music in the lobby — the students are either sick or feeling emotionally shitty. They need something soothing (damn it, I need something soothing). Okay, I’m getting distracted by details … soon I’ll be asking for lattes to be served with my therapy session. Hey, not a bad idea.
Okay, and then we have Counseling and Psychological Services … ohhhh CAPS — this is located in the basement of Gannett. The actual counselors and doctors are generally good. I just find that the process is bad. Even at CAPS — and yes, I see a shrink and I’m proud of it! — there is absolutely NO privacy in the waiting area. The receptionist asks for your name really loudly over horribly peppy music. But to assuage feelings of inadequacy and depression, they have lots of lollypops, hot chocolate and inspirational posters!
Plus, CAPS is omnipresent. For instance, when I had pneumonia last winter, someone at CAPS found out, which led to an anonymous member of the clinic repeatedly calling me and asking, in a chirpy voice, “Do you plan on killing yourself today?” Yeah, that wasn’t helping — an anonymous person calling to check to see if I had offed myself was not particularly comforting … but enough about me.
Really, university administrators (or whoever is in charge of this sort of thing) have got to do something to minimize the stigma associated with counseling in order to encourage students to seek help … even if it is just to talk about the pressures of beer pong. Seriously, seeing a shrink is chic. I can talk about seeing a shrink openly because I’m from L.A. and it is considered weird not to go to therapy. My mom had a brilliant idea — a personal trainer/shrink.
But I shouldn’t trivialize this matter, because the lack of empathy and support surrounding mental health is an extremely serious problem. Unfortunately, mental health issues are not well understood, even by professionals, and treatment is still in the embryonic stages. But seeing as universities may not be able to a) stop the NRA b) install metal detectors in every classroom or c) change mental health care globally, they may as well start by reanalyzing their own facilities. Also, professors should be informed as to how to spot unhealthy behaviors and how to successfully refer students to counseling services, as students often look to faculty for help before consulting a trained therapist. Granted, the Virginia Tech Massacre is an anomaly, but there are plenty of students who suffer from mental illness. They will not go to the extremes that Cho did, but may end up harming themselves in some way. Universities should step up and address issues surrounding mental health and lead the way for acceptance, understanding and treatment.
Claire Readhead is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com. Silk Blue Stockings appears alternate Mondays.