The Lack of Mental Health Care on College Campuses
My battle with insomnia was mind numbing, depressing, and, at the time, seemingly inescapable. Every night I went to bed hoping my fate would reverse itself and I would finally be able to get some much needed sleep, but night after night I continued to lay awake cursing my inability to do so. I was mentally and physically exhausted.
Being a freshman in college is a big enough adjustment as is, without adding an inability to sleep on top of it. I tried everything, from working out, to cutting caffeine out of my diet, to meditating, and none of it worked. I tried speaking to a medical professional at my school's
health center but that too was no help. They told me to work on my deep breathing and take melatonin (a natural sleep aid). Looking back on this conversation I laugh. Anyone who has dealt with insomnia knows that some breathing exercises are not going to help you at four in the morning when you are a ball of anxiety and all you want is a few precious hours of sleep before you have to start the day again. I understand, however, where they were coming from when giving me this advice. They did not want to prescribe another student medication they did not need, but, in this moment, the doctors failed me. If they truly paid attention to my symptoms and understood that my inability to sleep was drastically affecting my life and my happiness, they would not have simply let me go with a few words and a handout about deep breathing.
I left my school’s health center that day feeling optimistic the advice I was given would finally cure me. This, as you might predict, was most certainly not the case. Moving forward about a month or so, I thought I had reached my breaking point. After months of tossing and turning and lying awake till four, sometimes five in the morning, I could not take it anymore. I made another appointment and this time I refused to leave without getting the medication I needed and rightfully deserved. Once speaking to my doctor, I could not hold in my emotion. I kept repeating my (almost) mantra at that point in my life “I just need some sleep” while sobbing uncontrollably. I have never experienced depression, but the way I felt that day was what I imagined true despair to be like. My emotional outburst must have struck a chord because I was thankfully given a sleep aid and set up with a psychiatrist that day. This was the beginning of, and the most crucial step towards, a long recovery.
In the scheme of things, I was lucky. I was given proper psychiatric care to help deal with my insomnia, but many are not. The average U.S. American college student needs to wait weeks to even get an appointment with a trained mental health professional, let alone be considered for consistent treatment. I was fortunate enough to be transferred to the psychiatric branch of my health center on my second appointment, but that is because I fought for it. I refused to leave without getting the proper care I deserved, but many are not able to do that. For those battling with depression, it can be a tremendous task to just get out of bed, let alone make an appointment at a health center, wait weeks to actually be seen by a medical professional, and then, when finally sitting in a doctor’s office, be forced to fight for the care that should have been provided to them weeks ago. This is unacceptable. Students should be encouraged to visit their health centers and get psychiatric care when necessary. They should not be pushed away by long wait times and a dismissal of their symptoms. This lack of care by higher education institutions can and should take partial responsibility for the rising suicide rates across university campuses.
To further emphasize the hurdles students seeking mental health care face, once placed with a psychiatrist or psychologist students are more often than not only given a limited number of free appointments per semester. My school starts charging students after their fifth appointment. For someone dealing with a severe mental illness, this does not equate to proper care.
It is understandable that schools are struggling to keep up with the demand for mental health services on campus; there has been a drastic rise in students experiencing mental health issues recently. In fact, diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks have risen dramatically from 2009 to 2015 by 5.6%, 3.2%, and 2.8% respectively (Sandoiu 2018). This, however, is not a valid excuse. Students’ wellbeing should always be a university’s number one priority. Oftentimes, I believe schools get caught up in bureaucratic processes and making sure its beneficiaries continue to donate so the deans and more well-established staff can go home with even greater bonuses. This, as I will say yet again, is unacceptable. Students as well as those not involved in academia need to take a stand and force universities to address this issue otherwise nothing will change. There is no need for these students to be struggling. By addressing mental health on university campuses and providing greater access to care we can create a happier more ‘productive’ world.
Young Leaders for Health
Sandoiu, A., 2018. Mental health conditions on the rise among US students. Medical News Today.
Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323489#Trends-in-12-mental-health-conditions [Accessed April 23, 2020].