April 13, 2022

WISE-ROJAS | Don’t Expect Continued Mental Health Care from Cornell

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Content warning: This article contains mentions of depression and other mental health conditions.

Cornell Health, on one hand, is excellent. It’s conveniently located on central campus providing a wide range of resources, all covered by the Cornell Student Health Plan with many doctors who know their specialty very well. Having a pharmacy that I can stop by between classes makes me feel great.

However, I have learned (sadly, through experience) after being at Cornell for almost three terms that Ithaca’s Cornell Health building is home to plentiful resources and doctors, but no one ever ensured that there were enough doctors to meet the demands. This results in an overall more depressed campus body and normalizes — maybe even glamorizes — casual suicidal discussions (through “I’m gonna go jump into the gorge” or “I would love to throw myself thoughts/discussion,” glamorized by saying it with a laugh and relating it something obscure and unrelated like failing an exam).

Motivation running low, I stare at the clock, wondering why I even bother to get help for myself, falling back asleep right before my virtual therapy session. Sleeping seemed like an excellent coping mechanism at the time. I wake up to an alarm clock blaring which I should have snoozed 40 minutes ago. I missed my therapy appointment. I sighed, got emotional and acknowledged how this made me feel worse than I thought it would; I knew I would not be able to book an appointment soon, and that scared me. There are rarely appointments available. 

I was right. I called, and I was told that there weren’t any appointments with my therapist until nearly next month. I asked about the Urgent Care Counselor that I’ve been given for when things get tough and to cover for my therapist when she was busy, and I needed support. Through correspondence, I was told that I basically had to be in crisis if I wanted to get an earlier therapy appointment. I broke out in tears. My therapist has since recommended that I leave Cornell Health and find another low-cost provider or one that takes Aetna Cornell Student Health Insurance so I can get the continuous care that I very much need. 

She does have a point, but she’s a really great therapist that I’ve already built a relationship with, and I finally feel okay talking about the “not so great” aspects of my life around her — a tremendous feat. I lacked the motivation to get out of bed, but I also lacked the motivation to keep going and reach out to any other institutions. I was told to not mention that the Urgent Care Counselor thing was not even a thing because of how limited they are. I understand it is not the employees’ fault, but I don’t want to gatekeep this. It’s a resource that really helped me, and this remark was almost like a slap in the face for finally being honest with my therapist. If you have any recommendations for a low-cost or insurance-covered therapist, please reach out to me. My email is in my sign-off signature.

Furthermore, the role of privilege is also evident when it comes to mental health care on campus; it’s not only prevalent in college admissions and the culture of attending an Ivy League school. One of Cornell’s Mental Health Initiatives includes their Fall 2020 Mental Health and Well Being Survey. Regarding mental health disparities, students of color, those who identify as a gender out of the binary or as transgender and those whose sexual orientation doesn’t fit societal norms struggle the most. 

According to the report, “Students of color, and particularly Black (US) and Latinx (US) students, reported significantly higher psychological distress, stress and loneliness compared to White (US) students (p < .01).” Furthermore, those with gender identities who don’t fit the traditional norms and/or binaries “reported significantly higher psychological distress, stress and loneliness compared to men (p < .01).” Additionally, “LGBQIA+ students reported significantly higher distress, stress and loneliness compared to heterosexual students (p < .01).”

By default, the resources are unbalanced. The playing field is not equal as it should be. Of course, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Nevertheless, students of color are stuck trying to hold the weight of themselves, the world and the marginalized communities they represent. 

The typical white Cornell student who pays full tuition out of pocket with no financial assistance from Cornell could face similar struggles; however, they will never have to worry about making ends meet. They will never have to worry about not being treated a certain way because of the color of their skin or how they identify. They don’t have to stay on campus over spring break to work instead of going home to their family. They don’t have to worry about a familial reaction to their coming out impacting their home security. The list goes on. 

The baseline for marginalized groups is simply way lower. Yes, everyone goes through hardship. However, these are the same students who didn’t let the cost alone stop them from considering attending or applying to Cornell. There are so many stories that I could tell about myself or my peers who struggle. 

Given all this, we own our privilege. We acknowledge that going to Cornell is a massive privilege that most people will never get, especially minorities. We now have access to the same elite spaces that upper-class Americans have. We feel like an oddball most of the time, and even more so when we can’t even get adequate mental healthcare to help us cope with current and past traumas, the pressure of being the first in your family to go to college, the stress of yourself and the anxiety to succeed.

Such is the reason that continued care is essential. I know my life is filled with constant ups and downs; if I were to go to therapy two to three weeks apart, about 20 to 30 minutes of the session would be spent trying to catch the therapist up on my life. I’m saying this because I recently discovered the power and importance of being completely honest with your therapist, even if it’s rough, and how everything happens for a reason. 

I only got to that point because I called and begged to be seen, only to be turned down and delayed because I’m “not in crisis.” You can’t win. I’m either going to be 100 percent okay or 100 percent in crisis. I can’t just be in my “recovery mode.” That’s the problem with Cornell Health. They don’t have enough people employed to meet the needs of the number of students who need support, despite Cornell’s evident wealth. 

As a result, marginalized students might begin hating the part of themselves that used to embrace their identities. The one who was stable enough to take on everything and actually learns to cope healthily may lose their path. While I wait for my next appointment, I shall be smiling on the outside but crying on the inside; I’ve never felt more okay and stable in my life than I do now. I’m afraid that will be taken away from me. 

Daniela Wise-Rojas ’25 is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. She currently serves as Assistant Dining Editor on the 140th Editorial Board. Anything But MunDANIties runs every other Wednesday this semester.