Students Rally to Improve Campus Mental Health Support

Kristopher Fraser, Staff Writer

With the support of other students dissatisfied with Student Health, graduating College junior John Bergen and College first-year Kennedy Carlick are campaigning to change the department themselves.

Carlick is forming a new organization called the Oberlin Listens Project, a peer-to-peer support network.

“It is a way to allow students to provide a listening and emotional ear, and emotional support to other students who reach out,” Carlick said.

As the Counseling Center is unavailable after 4:30 p.m., Carlick and her co-organizers College first-year Ellyn Butler and College first-year Ethan Ableman believe this project is a means to expand mental health resources on campus.

This semester, Bergen has advocated not only for an expansion of the resources that Student Health and the Counseling Center offer, but also for the center’s relocation to a more accessible location on campus. The Counseling Center sits on West Lorain Street across from Mercy Allen Hospital, and is relatively far from central campus.

In previous years, Student Health was located in Peters Hall, a more central, accessible space, according to Bergen. When the Counseling Center relocated to its current building, the administration imme- diately encountered criticism about the distance, particularly in light of Oberlin’s notoriously harsh winters and icy roads. Students argued that depressed peers struggle to wake up in the morning, let alone travel long distances.

“I know friends who have said ‘I’m having a really bad day; I’m potentially in a crisis situation, but I have to decide if I’m bad enough that I’ll walk all the way there, sit there, wait and walk back,’” Bergen said.

Carlick hopes that the Oberlin Listens Project will ulti- mately become a resource accessible to everyone.

“This project is important because right now there are a lot of people who feel like they have no one to talk to about issues of mental illness and emotional wellbeing,” Carlick explained. “Issues of mental health affect us all and it’s important to make sure that we promote a community of empathy, awareness and support.”

Ableman agreed.

“I’ve been struggling with major depression throughout the last year and a half, but I only recently saw my peers as a resource for me,” Ableman said in an email to the Review. “Mental health is a very touchy subject, and I didn’t want to make my friends have to hear about my problems. But as I’ve discovered, talking to some- body your age, someone who’s also in college and is working their butt off, can be much more comforting than talk- ing to an adult counselor or therapist.”

Many students on campus believe that the administration does not consider mental health a priority.

“It also sends a message to students that Oberlin College doesn’t prioritize student mental health,” Bergen said. “These things are only so important, we will put them two blocks away from campus.”

Despite their issues with mental health services on campus, both Bergen and Carlick were not wholly negative in their discussion of campus resources.

“I think [the Counseling Center is] a great resource for short-term counseling,” Carlick said. “They’re also really help- ful with finding local therapists who can provide long-term counseling. They’re also really open to feedback if you have a negative experience. I think sometimes people don’t give it a chance because they’ve heard negative things about it. But I think everyone who is think- ing about trying it should go and make up their own mind. Counseling is a really personal thing, and a counselor that is a terrible match for one per- son might be great for another person.”

Ableman noted that the Counseling Center can only do so much.

“People complain about the Counseling Center a lot, but I doubt that much of the complaining is rooted in actual experience. I only know of one friend who has been to the Counseling Center and had a genuinely poor experience. I didn’t have a great Counseling Center experience — that is, I didn’t find it extremely help- ful for me at that time — but I did find it useful to at least have someone to talk to … the Counseling Center can only do so much. When my counselor kicked me out, they were very nice about it and gave me a list of other local resources.”

Bergen also referenced the center’s initiatives and recent appointments of new staff.

“They’ve expanded the walk-in hours [over my three years here] ,which is helpful. Hiring Matthew Hayden as the [assistant] dean of health initiatives has been really im- portant; changes in the sexual offense policy are important to mental health,” Bergen said.

Both Bergen and Carlick emphasized that these initiatives are in their nascent stages; according to Ableman, the Oberlin Listens Project will likely launch next spring.

“I’ve seen certain things the administration has done, and things I’ve seen my peers do, like increasing unofficial sup- port groups. Learning to better support each other has been the biggest thing —figuring out what we need to survive at Oberlin,” Bergen said. “That ul- timately is going to be what has the biggest impact.”