Collegiate mental health: The other Fight Club

By Kasey Marshall

Executive Staff

Not entirely unlike the aforementioned film, mental illness is a largely undiscussed topic on college campuses. Pretty weird, seeing as how some psychologists and surveys estimate that 33 to 40 percent of college students have significant psychological issues (Henriques, 2014; ACHA, 2014). Even worse, many disorders often manifest within our young adult demographic: schizophrenia, other psychotic disorders, bipolar depression, personality disorders, substance abuse, generalized anxiety, panic disorders, and the like. And most tragic of all, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students (CDC, 2013). With these numbers and implications, surely we’d be offered comprehensive mental health services?

Apparently not. Try calling Counseling Services. Ask for an appointment. Expect a lengthy wait list. Meet with one the school’s five psychologists or sole psychiatrist. Be quickly deferred should your issues warrant more than six or so sessions.

Who and where are these outside providers? Are they accepting new patients? Will they actually return your phone calls? Will you have to bike down the freeway in mid-winter or copilot a plane to your hometown to reach them (like I have)? Do you have the time, energy, or means to see them if they happen to be in Chattanooga or Nashville? Can you afford and/or access the medications they might prescribe? Who knows! That’s a personal problem.

And if you fail to overcome these personal problems, you run the risk of being “voluntarily” (read: involuntarily, but with fewer cops) committed to an “acute elopement risk unit” (read: psych ward). Or something far worse than being woken up for vitals at 5:30 in the morning by the chipmunks cover of “Uptown Funk” blaring on the hospital intercom, getting sublingual antipsychotics shoved in your mouth, having mashed potatoes eternally ruined for you, huddling against the washer/dryer for warmth, obeying prison-esque rules, and never seeing the sun. These hellacious experiences will either cost you your life or an entire semester’s worth of tuition at this fine private institution.

Now, don’t interpret this as me bashing Sewanee. This is an issue far greater than my personal grievances or even this mountaintop. And it’s not like our mental health providers and school administrators actively want us to suffer; most of them are nothing but kind. The real issue lies with severe stigma and insufficient resources. The same can be said of every university in America, and arguably the general public. We may have the best intentions in the world, but nothing will change if we can’t address these issues.

I’m not suggesting we somehow make money and licensed professionals fall from the sky or mystically alter public attitudes toward mental illness via mass hypnosis. However, we have access to one simple yet powerful act: talking about it. Against the dictates of the Passing Hello™, tell someone how you really feel. You’d be surprised by the response.