Why Is It So Hard to Get Mental Health Help?

Managing Opinion Editor Scott Brasesco ’22 shares his personal frustration of seeking help from our understaffed counseling center, shedding light on the severity of the college’s mental health resource inadequacy.

“We hold students’ needs at the core of the decisions we make, and consider the students’ needs our top priority,” reads the Counseling Center’s Mission and Values page. Yet, after going through my third appointment cancellation in just one week, I’m beginning to feel that they do not have the adequate materials to make that mission a reality.

I first reached out to the Counseling Center on Thursday, Sept. 9, after realizing that I would soon be running out of the anxiety medication that I had been prescribed over the course of the pandemic. I hoped to renew the prescription or explore other options, like therapy or different medications, to address my anxiety.

They were prompt to respond, telling me that if I called the same day I could set up an appointment with one of their counselors to assess my options. I did so, and was able to set up an appointment for the following Tuesday. It wasn’t ideal, but I figured I could handle a couple of days without medication, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

My Tuesday meeting was brief, and I left with one major takeaway from the Counseling Center: “We don’t have the resources to meet your needs.” I was told my desire for therapy was undoable in-house, meaning I would need to meet with a case manager — who was unavailable for the next two weeks — to discuss options for therapy off-campus. Even worse, I was told that the earliest possible appointment I could make with the college’s psychiatrist to refill my prescription or look at other potential options was Oct. 4, almost a month after I would run out of medication.

I remember being irked at the long waits, but, knowing I couldn’t do anything about it, I just sucked it up and got in line. Yet, this week, when my case manager appointment came around, I received an email that it had been canceled and that we could reschedule for the next day. That was alright, I thought, certainly not the worst thing that could happen. The following day, however, I got another email from the Counseling Center that the appointment had been canceled again due to a medical emergency and that I would need to call in to come up with a new appointment time — in other words, my hopes of getting therapy in the near future were dashed.

I called in, and asked whether there might be some other case manager I could meet with while the other is out, but the Counseling Center told me, “No, sorry, we only have one case manager.” Understaffing thwarting the college’s missions, who could have guessed? But even that I could handle, because the most important thing was refilling my anxiety medication.

So why am I writing any of this right now, in a sad attempt to make my frustrations public? Because this morning, Oct. 1, I received another dreaded email from the Counseling Center, letting me know that the psychiatrist would be out unexpectedly and that, if I still needed medication, I could try to make another appointment “later in the semester.”

At the direction of the Counseling Center, I’m looking for a therapist off-campus now. And they’ve said they’ll help me get a refill of my prescription whether I can see the psychiatrist or not, though there’s still not been any material progress on that front. Nearly a month after I first reached out, it feels like they’re finally beginning to address my problems.

I want to clarify that I have nothing against the Counseling Center or any of the fine people who work there. I’ve not once had a bad interaction with Counseling Center staff for any reason other than understaffing, something that lies out of their control. And I think the Counseling Center can be a fantastic resource, otherwise I would not be trying so desperately and repeatedly to access it.

Even so, my problems with the Counseling Center speak to a deep problem that I’ve learned I’m not alone in suffering from. When I brought up these feelings with the Editorial Board during this week’s meeting, I was saddened to hear that my experiences were utterly common; everyone in the newsroom had a similar story of troubles that they or their friends had gone through to access the college’s mental health services, and few of us had any positive experiences to report.

I wrote this letter as a cathartic experience to cope with the frustration of what seemed like indefinitely deferred mental health support, but my conversation with the other editors convinced me to share it with the rest of the community.

I hope that reading this will move someone to do something. The Editorial Board this week has called on the college to double its counseling center staff and I wholeheartedly endorse that message. At the very least, I want the college to match its words with actions, and show us that it's willing to listen and adapt to student suggestions for improvement.

For now, my story is just one of many detailing a tragically common experience, but I hope that for future students it will read like yet another satire piece.