Campus mental health services need re-servicing

    I am ecstatic that on May 2, staff and students rallied in an attempt to begin a conversation about diversity on this campus. I am glad Morty showed up. I am glad the diversity report was finally released.

    However, I think another issue plagues this campus: a of lack mental health services. This may seem unrelated to the diversity discussions that have been going on, but as a person who has dealt with mental illness, I feel that mental health needs to enter the conversation. If we are going to improve our campus, mental health needs to enter the conversation.

    According to a 2009 study, it was shown that nearly half of the college students studied had a mental health problem. It was also found that less than one fourth of these students sought treatment. Additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in four students reports having suicidal thoughts and feelings. While I recognize that these statistics are not specific to the Northwestern community, I believe that our campus probably has mental illness around the national average. Intelligence and attendance at a top-tier university does not protect our students from mental illness.

    Additionally, I know that we must have many students dealing with mental illness, since Counseling and Psychological Services has had a waiting list for individual therapy since Fall Quarter. We need to start a conversation about what services are available to NU students, and how these services are inadequate.

    Let us begin with CAPS itself. While I cannot speak to some “universal” experience with CAPS, I will explain my experience when I called them as a scared, confused freshman. I called CAPS and was immediately told to wait for a “phone interview” later in the day. Since I lived in the dorm, the probing questions were difficult to answer so close to wandering ears. I got through it, and eventually went in to their office for an appointment. The first 15-20 minutes of said appointment were spent taking a computer survey on my mental health history, current state and habits. The emphasis on alcohol consumption seemed odd to me, since I wanted to discuss finals stress. By the time I saw a therapist, I was so alienated and frustrated that I was almost relieved when she explained that I would need to seek help elsewhere – even in 2009 there was a waiting list. The entire experience was unhelpful.

    My experience with CAPS may have been extreme, or I could be overreacting to standard triage procedures. Regardless, Northwestern is lacking counseling services that other universities have in spades. I will compare NU’s offerings with those of the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, to show how other schools with similar endowments handle mental health.

    On CAPS’s website, they list six services: crisis intervention, individual psychotherapy, psychiatric consultation, eating concerns assessment, wellness workshops and stress management clinics. A similar website for the University of Michigan lists all of these services, plus ADHD screenings and support, substance abuse screenings and support, “common concerns” meetings, and drop-in workshops. These are just the offerings under their “counseling services” department. They also include more resources under “mental health wellness.” Similarly, the University of Chicago adds “academic skills assessment,” support groups and a program called “let’s talk” (which are free, drop-in consultations).

    Compared to these schools, CAPS lacks two major areas of care. First, they are so understaffed that they have a waiting list for individual psychotherapy, so hosting drop-in hours for informal wellness and support is out of the question. Drop-in services would be helpful to students who are dealing with stress, who cannot commit to the rigorous intake process. Also, we have no resources for people with substance abuse problems. The record number of alcohol transports this year may be from poor drinking habits, but it probably points to underlying substance abuse issues. Our only substance abuse program is the Brief Alcohol/Drug Screening and Intervention for College Students, which can only be found in the university’s policy on alcohol and drugs. This little-known program is not enough to help students dealing with substance abuse.

    Although most of our services are lacking, I applaud the Women’s Center, CARE and the LGBT Resource Center for their comprehensive gender, sexual orientation, relationship and sexual abuse counseling. The Women’s Center offers individual psychotherapy and support groups for a number of issues. CARE offers stable, compassionate support for people who have suffered sexual abuse or other unhealthy relationship problems. While the LGBT Resource Center offers no individual counseling, they have been an advocacy force for the wellness of LGBT students on campus. Together, these three organizations make our gender-and-sexuality-related support much stronger than our other services.

    The successes in gender and sexuality support show that we can improve our other mental health services. CAPS could work to offer the caring, comprehensive support of the Women’s Center or CARE. We could have drop-in counseling, peer support or expanded stress prevention initiatives. Our students could feel that their mental health needs were heard and met, not set aside and silenced.

    If Tuesday has taught me anything, it is that our campus can change. We can start a conversation. And I hope that, at some point, we will start advocating for more mental health support.

    Read more about mental health at Northwestern in the print edition of North by Northwestern, out May 25.


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