Two-year-wait for counseling center director puts students' mental health at risk
An open letter to the student body regarding mental health
When it comes to health, students often think solely about their physical health and the benefits that accompany an active lifestyle. Although the importance of physical health cannot be underestimated, it is impossible to truly succeed in an academic setting if equal focus is not applied to mental health. One in every four college students struggle with a mental illness, yet rarely do we ever engage mental health with the respect that it deserves. Our nation’s leaders are far too quick to blame mental health for societal ills, yet rarely work towards policy that addresses the issue through respectful dialogue and reform.
Here at MSU, we are witnessing a microcosm of the national disengagement and stigmatization surrounding mental health. Our Counseling Center has not had a director in nearly three years and is struggling to provide students with the care that they need. Representatives from ASMSU have been pursuing this issue vigilantly for the better part of a year with no substantive response. The department, while staffed with thoroughly dedicated and competent mental health professionals, cannot expand their services or streamline efficiency without a leader. To say that I am disappointed with the University’s inaction would be the understatement of the year; I am furious that our Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Denise Maybank, has delayed the hiring process this extensively. The search committee, which reconvened in May of 2015, was tasked with recommending a viable selection for this position and submitted its final report regarding the two candidates to Dr. Maybank on June 25th, 2015. While I understand the complexities of the University hiring process, there is absolutely no excuse for our leadership to be playing politics with an issue that affects such a high proportion of students’ lives. College is truly one of the most transformative experiences one can undertake and the fact that the health of my peers is not being taken seriously saddens me deeply.
Part of my frustration and anger regarding attitude towards mental health comes from experience. Just over a year ago, I could not tell where I fit in at MSU and following multiple leg surgeries, was frustrated with my inability to exercise and relieve stress. I was a sophomore and the stress of school, work, and social life began to infringe upon my happiness. After a couple of brutal weeks, I finally had the nerve to go to MSU’s Counseling Center and ask to talk to someone. I was told that the wait would be two weeks due to the Counseling Center’s high demand and lack of resources, but that was far too late if I wanted to salvage grades, relationships, and work. Luckily, I was able to see a counselor off-campus and immediately felt the benefits of simply talking about what I was experiencing every day. Today, I could not feel better about where I am and the people I have surrounded myself with, but that was almost impossible one year ago, because I was almost too nervous to come to terms with the fact that happiness in college is not a guarantee. I was embarrassed that I needed to talk to someone and did not feel comfortable approaching any of my friends or family because I was afraid they would judge me or perhaps see me as a weaker individual. I am not unique; far too many students lose their lives to suicide every day because, like me, they felt out of place, overwhelmed, stressed, or any number of other normal feelings that arise from the high-pressure situation that is college. Unfortunately, we have fallen in line with the status quo and continued to treat mental illness with the same disregard and lack of compassion that plagued the 20th century.
The Millennial Generation, my generation, has already broken from societal norms on multiple instances and forced discussions that have yielded cultural (and legal) changes in everything from same-sex marriage to climate change. It is time for our generation to stand for what is right, yet again, and engage mental health for what it is: not a problem, but an issue that affects every single one of us in our day-to-day lives. Whether you personally struggle with mental health or not, everyone knows someone who has grappled with these issues. There is absolutely no reason that anyone should have to move forward with these battles alone. We are all here for the same reason. By reducing the very real stigma that surrounds mental health and embracing our differences, we will be able to succeed as a community and support each other as a community. All it takes is one conversation, one smile, one reassurance, to make someone’s day, or life, markedly better.
Vice President for Governmental Affairs
Associated Students of Michigan State University