Psychiatric and counseling services on college campuses typically receive inadequate attention compared to other areas of health care, and Oberlin is no exception. While past disparities can be attributed to the invisibility of mental conditions and suppressive social influence, ignorance is not a viable excuse. It’s time for the institution to stop putting mental health on the backburner.
In a Feb. 6 article published by STAT News, Megan Thielking reported a lack of mental health resources on campuses nationwide. From small colleges to major universities, “Students often have to wait weeks just for an initial intake exam to review their symptoms,” Thielking wrote. “The wait to see a psychiatrist who can prescribe or adjust medication — often a part-time employee — may be longer still.”
Many students have had similar experiences at Oberlin, with many giving up on the Counseling Center altogether. Long wait times, ambiguous walk-in and break hours and lapses in communication on behalf of staff make it difficult for students to connect with medical professionals.
The Counseling Center is located on the western edge of campus, a trek for students without cars, particularly during the winter. When I was a first-year, I was reluctant to run into anyone I knew on my way to therapy, and the conspicuously distant location discouraged me further. Were it more central to campus, I wouldn’t have had to worry about being late to class after an appointment or getting there in rain or snow.
I have known I needed treatment since before orientation, but it wasn’t until February 2014 that I finally made the dreaded hike. In my initial assessment, I met with a therapist who recommended I try medication along with cognitive-behavioral therapy. After suffering from an anxiety disorder for years, I was relieved to receive a treatment plan and eager to begin. Frustratingly, I had to wait a month before I saw a psychiatrist who could set me up with a prescription. Oberlin had only two psychiatrists at that time, and the standard wait time for a new patient was several weeks. But I was lucky to be seen by a psychiatrist at all, since according to the results of a survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, only six in 10 college counseling centers have even a part-time psychiatrist available.
Within two weeks of beginning Zoloft for my anxiety, I felt 50 percent normal and 100 percent hopeful. For the first time, a future seemed possible. I could speak in class without breaking a sweat or losing my train of thought. I could eat in the dining halls with friends without my throat closing up and wanting to vomit. I spent less time hiding because I could sit in public spaces without worrying about how I looked or who was judging me. I was so grateful for the Counseling Center and my newfound ability to engage in life as a college student. However, many students have experiences that are not as successful as mine.
College is extremely stressful for any dedicated student, and even more so for Oberlin students. No matter the strength of our resolve or capabilities, we need resources and we need fidelity from those providing them.
While Oberlin has made a nice show of awareness and destigmatization of mental illness, the Counseling Center has remained inadequate despite high demand and an increasingly concerned student body. In order to truly be the place of inclusion, fruition and progressive action that we pride ourselves on being, Oberlin needs to make institutional improvements when it comes to mental health.
A petition to relocate both the Student Health Center and the Counseling Center surfaced last year, but has since died. Our silence as a student body and greater community enables the administration to kick it under the rug. We cannot accept inaction and allow it to become the norm. We must speak up and tell our stories, if not for ourselves, then for future generations of Oberlin students.
In an era in which the perpetuation of many stigmas is diminishing, the window of opportunity is waiting to be opened. Whether or not real change will occur depends greatly on the actions of institutions such as Oberlin. As a leading academic institution with a history of pushing social boundaries, we have the authority to make our voices heard and the potential to reach campuses and audiences throughout the country. We students have not been and will not be silent. It is time the administration answers our pleas.