By Kelly Corbett
If you asked me what I’ve learned at the College these past four years, apart from my course load, I’d have a lot to tell you. I’ve learned how to disguise my demons, forge small talk with a classmate or professor while my mental state was in shambles, listen to weird music at 2 a.m. while looping around the track and stop myself from crying in class when someone would say something ignorant, all the while managing to not let my GPA take a plunge. Basically, I learned how to hide that I wasn’t OK.
Not only did mental health become a theme in my life, but it also became a theme on this campus. Three students and one assistant provost died by suicide during my time here. This wasn’t some over-the-top fictional movie I was watching: this was real life. The people around me were struggling with mental health.
Over the past couple semesters, I’ve voiced a few frustrations I’ve had with the mental health facilities at the College. Many of the pieces I’ve written have involved actions that weren’t necessarily a quick fix. I thought I’d use this piece to list a few easy solutions that the College and Counseling and Psychological Services should take into consideration for bettering mental health on campus. Spoiler: they don’t involve construction or additional funds.
First, I think CAPS should nix their application process for monologue events. Every semester CAPS hosts events that provide students the opportunity to share their personal stories in the form of a monologue. Every monologue series has a theme dealing with mental health. In the past, CAPS has used the idea of stigmas or eating disorders as topics for students to talk about. Monologues are raw, honest and exactly the type of rich dialogue that members of the College should have on their radar. The issue is not every student who is willing to share is allowed to share.
Monologue events require students to sign up using qualtrics, which is an online survey. After students sign up, only certain stories are chosen for the lineup. This system is insanely selective. Shouldn’t everyone’s story be told? Mental illness involves one dealing with their day-to-day demons and it takes so much courage to be vocal about this. I was rejected at first from the eating disorder monologues last spring and I was only allowed to speak after someone in the lineup had dropped out. It made me feel like my experience with an eating disorder was not as valuable as someone else’s.
While I understand that there are time constraints with including everyone’s stories, would extending the program or breaking it up into a multiple day event be that problematic? I feel like CAPS peer educators screen applicants far too intensely for these events and only try to select students that share certain messages in their accounts. The monologue events would be much more enriching if everyone’s voice was incorporated.
Second, I think the College’s social media channels could use a little reboot. If there is an event on campus dealing with students discussing mental health, why not toss a post about it on the College’s official Facebook or Twitter beforehand with details on its time and location? Better yet, since it’s mental health awareness month, would it be so out of line to commemorate it on the College’s Instagram, and post links in the photo’s caption that lead to a list of resources for students? I’m not just talking about mental health issues — LGBTQ+ issues, racism and environmental issues all deserve attention.
I have recently seen more facile posts on the College’s social media channels, celebrating events like denim day and promoting selfies for self-care. I’ve also seen posts showing off our picturesque campus and honoring alumni with jobs at elite companies. There simply aren’t enough posts that show how we, as a school, can be deep. We need to show that the College is a school that cares about touchy topics, like mental health. The school tends to only shine a light on academic achievements. However, the ability for students to be compassionate and share what makes them vulnerable is also a major accomplishment that should not go unnoticed.
Third, while professional help is ideal for those trying to cope with their own personal issues, we shouldn’t oust smaller-scale resources. The CAPS website can serve as a resource for students, but it is not marketed well. I checked out Ramapo College’s mental health counseling website and was impressed by what its site has to offer: It has an anonymous screening portion that assesses all forms of mental illness, an “Are you concerned about someone?” section, a self-help section that includes links to TED Talks and adult coloring pages. There is even a featured section that gives students tips on how to cope while waiting for their appointment, as well as a schedule of all mental health related events on campus. I feel that it takes too much digging to find valuable resources on the CAPS website and many students are unaware that there is more in it besides general information on the facility itself.
Fourth, in order to better cater to the schedules of various students, CAPS should consider making its counselors’ schedules more versatile. Counselors have a typical Monday through Friday workweek schedule from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., which provides a very limited window for full-time students seeking help. Instead of scheduling all counselors at the same time, shifts should be staggered. Perhaps half of the counselors could have a noon to 8:00 p.m. shift to offer students a more flexible appointment time. While it is understandable that the current hours are ideal for the counselors, having later shifts would better accommodate the student body.
Lastly, communication about mental health at this school is a weak point. In a previous article I wrote, I spoke about the parking garage barriers that exist as means restriction for suicide prevention. The students were notified by email that construction would be taking place in the parking garages, but were never told that this was the reason why. Also, since my freshman year at the College, I’ve been told that CAPS is the go-to place for students who are struggling. It wasn’t until I went to counseling at CAPS and poured my heart out that I discovered the way counselors help students is by referring them to off-campus providers. When I expressed to CAPS that I didn’t have the transportation to go to therapy, I was told to rent a car. While the College has addressed this transportation issue recently with the opening of InFocus Urgent Care, it shouldn’t be forgotten that its rejection of vulnerable students has been a reality.
When I was in an emotionally disheveled state in the CAPS office the idea hit me that I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t receiving the help I needed. I realized that there were other students besides me who weren’t being provided the emotional support that they deserved. The College, along with CAPS, have kept the topic of mental illness hush hush. Everyone has experienced vulnerability and it’s important to acknowledge that overcoming our weaknesses is what has made us successful students. Therefore, the conversation about mental health on this campus should be constant, candid and limitless.
I challenge this campus to speak more about mental health, to share more experiences and above all, listen.