If you’re a college student and you’re depressed, chances are you have a student counseling center that’s available to you, at no charge.
But we don’t live in an ideal world and student counseling centers don’t make a university any money. So they aren’t necessarily well-funded, overflowing with well-paid staff or have access to all the resources they need.
That’s why Emily Merlino’s column about her experience at the University of Massachusetts (UMass), supposedly one of the better universities in the country, was a bit disheartening to read. In it, she details how she was experiencing depressive feelings and sought out help from a professional at the UMass Mental Health Services clinic.
When Emily Merlino first called for an appointment, she was placed on a 2-week wait-list. This is not an uncommon experience for anyone who’s ever sought out services from their university’s health center or student counseling center, or from a community mental health center. When I was in graduate school nearly 20 years ago, this wait-list could extend for as long as 4 to 5 weeks for the first psychotherapy appointment. Since state and federal budget cuts, these wait lists have only gotten worse.
When she finally did get in to see a professional, it was not a positive experience:
After what seemed like an eternity, when a mental health services employee finally spoke to me, she treated me like I was absolutely wasting her time. When I discussed my family’s history of depression and told her I was fairly sure I had symptoms of clinical depression, she did not even take the time to screen me, the first logical step in treating depression. Because I did not have suicidal thoughts, she literally told me that obviously my depression was not pressing or worthy of concern. Finally, her proposed “treatment” was suggesting that I drop out of the University.
I’m not sure if this is standard procedure at student counseling centers — to dismiss the person’s symptom concerns, or to minimize them if they didn’t acknowledge suicidal thoughts. (News flash: Even severely depressed individuals don’t always have suicidal thoughts.)
The problem with student mental health services is that nobody pays it much attention until you need to utilize them. As a prospective student, it’s not even a question that crosses most people’s minds when checking out schools. You just assume there’ll be someone there if you need to talk to someone — that their health and mental health services are going to be, at the very least, competent.
Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case at UMass. Such a large, well-funded state university system should be able to do better than what this student detailed in her experience.
The first step in reforming mental health services at universities like UMass is implementing an organized, efficient system to screen students for depression. At Loyola University in Chicago, first-time visitors to the university’s medical center are given a two-question survey to screen for depression. If the patient’s answers indicate a possibility of depression, the student is more extensively evaluated.
We couldn’t agree more.
Read the full story: Better Services for Mental Health