Letter to the Editor: Mental Health Care on Campus
by Bryanne McDonough | published Nov. 6th, 2018
This op-ed was written before RIT's latest press release on Nov. 5, 2018.
I am a recent graduate and I wanted to share my experiences and great disappointment at what is happening at the school.
I came to RIT diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder, and although I was no longer suicidal, I had previously attempted to kill myself. I was glad to see that there was a counseling center if I ever needed help and a psychiatrist who could prescribe my medication.
I met with the psychiatrist, Dr. Levine, and he was amazing. Throughout my four years at RIT, he was always very kind and helpful.
And then there was a counseling center. I had been in one-on-one therapy for three years at that point, so I assumed I would continue with that. Four years is a long time for me to remember things, so I don’t remember how long I had to wait for an initial appointment, but I do remember the appointment was actually quite short. I was told that RIT counselors only focus on short term therapy, but there were some group therapy sessions I could attend, and I was given a list with some suggestions for which group would help me the most.
I had been in group therapy before, in conjunction with one-on-one treatment, and it had worked well for me so I decided to give it a shot. Here’s the thing though, as a student, you are limited by your schedule. So you may not be able to attend the best group for you, or any group at all. And when you do attend a group, you don’t get the kind of individualized attention and advice from a counselor that you really need. A lot of it is listening to other people’s problems, which can be fine and sometimes helpful, but also could be triggering and detrimental.
At the end of the semester I decided not to continue group therapy because it hadn’t been very helpful and I had a busy semester. I never returned to group therapy. My second year was rough, but I didn’t immediately attribute the problems I was having to my anxiety, until the repeated panic attacks and isolation from friends made it clear. And yet, I still didn’t go back to the counseling center. I hadn’t gained anything from group and the rumor mill said it would take a long time to get an individual appointment.
Here's the thing about mental health: it’s hard to get help. It’s hard to push yourself to do something hard, to talk to people, to ask for help. And when people were telling me the counseling center was going to make me wait, was going to push me to off campus places I couldn’t access, I just didn’t bother.
The summer after my sophomore year I did attend one-on-one therapy for two months at the counseling center. I didn’t have a problem getting in because I scheduled before the end of the semester, knowing it would be a difficult summer. The counselor was great and the therapy was so helpful. I only wish that everyone could have access to it when they needed it, without having to plan ahead.
So here’s what needs to happen:
- There needs to be more therapists on campus, possibly even independent contractors to come in on an as-needed basis for emergencies. It’s clear that the current staffing levels cannot handle the amount of students that need help.
- There needs to be a better system for sending students to off-campus resources. You can’t just tell them to find a therapist, and good luck. At my graduate school, Boston University, there exists a “referral coordinator” who helps coordinate students and outside services. RIT needs something similar.
- RIT is isolated, and getting to places can be difficult and time consuming. A service needs to exist for students without cars to get to off-campus appointments, for both mental health and physical health. I lived with pain for two years because I didn’t have a car to get to physical therapy and didn’t have the time to take public transportation. When I did own a car, I transported many a friend to various appointments. With mental health problems, it can be hard to reach out to people to ask for help, so there needs to be some way to get students to their appointments.
RIT, you’re better than this. Bring back “greatness through difference” and be different by offering the best mental health services you can.
Students are your most precious resource. And you’ve been treating them like their opinions don’t matter. But the issue at hand is so much more than colors and balloons, it is the life and well-being of your students. So take it seriously, it’s already too late.