This Monday, something truly unique occurred. Our president, Mali Golomb-Leavitt, stood on the steps of Hendricks Chapel and gave voice to mental health issues on campus as part of the Diversity and Transparency (DAT) Rally, organized by THE General Body, a coalition made up of hundreds of members of the student body and student organizations – including Active Minds – to demand diversity and transparency on campus. The Rally made its way to Crouse-Hinds and members of the THE General Body are currently sitting-in at the administration building until there is a solid plan of action to meet the demands. What we fight for at Active Minds is engrained so deeply with disability and diversity issues, and we are so proud to be part of this fight. We will not let stigma stop us from fighting for the mental health care we deserve.
If you weren’t able to attend the Rally, below is the transcript:
There are so many disparities in mental health care and conversation on this campus but I have five minutes to call for action on this matter, so I’m primarily going to read you excerpts of students and faculty experiences with mental illness and mental health on SU’s campus. Here is what I will say before reading those: I am the president of the mental health activism group on this campus, and when I was asked to speak today I hesitated because “I didn’t know enough”. I don’t know enough. I still don’t understand what mental health care I actually have access to at this university. I frequently don’t know whether to go to the counseling center – located, as we know, at the literal outskirts of our campus – or to health services, or to psychiatric services, or to psychological services, or to the office of student assistance. Some people have seen a therapist on campus for 2 years; some people aren’t allowed to see one for over four visits; some, like myself, were rejected after my only visit and told to find treatment elsewhere, with no transportation, financial funds, or guidance to facilitate that process. Misinformation is rampant, and students are falling through the cracks: Everyone has a different experience with the counseling center, no one, including counselors, is consistent with counseling center protocol, and everyone is confused. Stigma of mental illness is how we are shamed; but confusion is how we are silenced: because “WE DON’T KNOW ENOUGH”. I am speaking out today because I refuse to let misinformation silence me. Confusion is not a reason to stay quiet about my need and my right to have access to health care – which is what counseling and psychological support is. Here are what your peers and students have to say:
- From a student: “Last year I used to be able to walk into Health Services while having a panic attack or having problems with my medication and I would be able to see a psychiatrist immediately. I went into Health Services about a week ago having a bad panic attack, and I was told I would have to wait 3 weeks to make an appointment to speak with somebody.”
- From another student: “One of my friends was told it would take four weeks, and she still hasn’t seen anyone. If you want to be seen with any sort of immediacy, the counseling center has to perceive you as potentially being some sort of danger to yourself or others.”
- From staff: “A student was on medical leave of absence for mental health issues from a previous semester. The counseling center approved her coming back, but did not tell her until she arrived on campus that they wouldn’t treat her because she was “chronic”.”
- From a student: “I used to see the psychiatric nurse at Health Services. I received an email from her saying she was leaving Health Services. Several weeks later, I got an email from Health Services saying that now my psychiatric care would be taken care of via their one remaining psychiatric doctor at Health Services. However, when I called to try to make an appointment with her, I was told that she is not taking patients. I said that I still needed my prescription refilled. They said I could see a regular practitioner there, but not the psychiatrist, which is not good, because I needed to see someone who specializes in psychiatric medication. So now I am not seeing anyone.”
- From staff: “Isn’t it a given that people who seeking mental health services are more likely to have issues with suicidality? The question is, does the college want to hold and support these students within the campus and try and prevent suicide, or do they want to send them to the community where they don’t know what care they are getting and have no control over it?”
- From a student: “Because it was summer and I wasn’t registered in classes, even though I was living right off-campus, I could no longer go to the counseling center. It was hard enough to get me into therapy—going through that process again, along with the financial burden, seemed unbearable. And then, at the beginning of the semester, my counselor didn’t follow up to reschedule. I haven’t been to counseling since.”
- From staff: “Staff are afraid to speak up, after all those staff were let go within the first few months of a new chancellor. They are worried about themselves and not the students. The chancellor is worried about getting out of debt and preventing other problems.”
- From a student: “I went to Non-Emergency Medical Transport to get transportation to my weekly therapy appointments downtown, because the counseling center wouldn’t see me. But the woman at the desk told me, “We only take students to medical appointments, we don’t really do that stuff.” This was a very clear message from the university saying that my mental health is not important the way that physical health evidently is – that I do not deserve mental health care, because the university provides neither adequate mental health services nor the means to access them elsewhere.”
- From former psychiatric staff: “The university is changing the focus of psychiatric services: Now, they are taking students with chronic conditions, as they called them, doing “brief psychiatry”, like counseling services, and then sending these students to the community. I fought this, saying the most vulnerable students with more issues, chronic or not, should be treated by us in a coordinated fashion with other services on campus, not dumped into the community where we don’t know what is going on. Not to mention that there are few places to send people in the community that are any good. With the transportation of getting to appointments and financial cost of having to pay more for services, the likelihood of students continuing care is low to none.” This staff was suspended without being told why for three weeks and was eventually pushed out all together.
- From a student: “In the second week back at school, my meds suddenly began to malfunction. First, they gave me multiple panic attacks, then depressive states, then suicidal urges… I went to the Counseling Center and had an emergency appointment, under the assumption that I could ask them how to get in contact with a psychiatrist. The emergency counselor told me that the school has no emergency psychiatrists … and that if I wanted to see a psychiatrist to get my meds changed, I would have to wait two weeks to have a regular appointment with the Counseling Center and then wait longer to get an appointment with Health Services. When I argued that I needed a psychiatrist that day, he told me that I could go to St. Joseph’s Hospital and printed out a map. He did not tell me that the school provides emergency transportation and expected me to get there by foot. St Josephs is a 20-30 minute walk from SU, and he knew I had suicidal ideation.”
I will end on this last quotation: “Appropriate mental health care is possible if it is a priority.”
Syracuse University: MAKE MENTAL HEALTH CARE A PRIORITY.