October 16, 2015

KRUGER | Mental Health Treatment, Or Lack Thereof

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Today’s college students are part of a mentally ill generation. 33 percent of all college students have suffered a prolonged period of depression. 25 percent suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. Due to its “suicide school” reputation following the highly publicized gorge suicides in the 2010-2011 school year, Cornell has been the pioneer in modern student health care. The Wall Street Journal, CNN and many other prestigious news outlets have touted its suicide prevention programs as top of the line. Cornell boasts a “comprehensive and integrated public health approach” for “Comprehensive Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion” which is seven-fold: foster a healthy education environment, promote social connectedness and resilience, increase help-seeking behavior, identify individuals in need of care, provide medical and mental health services, deliver coordinated crisis management and restrict access to means.

I’m sure by now your eyes have started to blur from all of the bureaucratic doubletalk; mine sure did. And Cornell’s mental health care system is just as convoluted as the manifesto promulgating its purposes. Three of the seven tiers of the system (promote social connectedness and resilience, increase help-seeking behavior, identify individuals in need of care) are made up of various outreach services which funnel students into Counseling and Psychological Services  (CAPS), such as EARS and Gannett mental health screening. Cornell spends a tremendous amount of money to help its students, who are apparently too invested in their schoolwork to have noticed their suicidal daydreaming, realize that they are depressive, or schizophrenic or bipolar, and need help. Despite my sarcasm, I actually do think that these are great programs. They help the student body view mental illness as an ordinary malady, like the common cold, whose symptoms should be looked for and treatment should be known. I am sure they do help students who are unaware of the realities of mental illness help put a name to the terrifying creature that has been dogging their neurons for the past few months. They encourage students to be aware of their mental health and seek help if needed.

However, although Cornell has been investing quite a bit of time and money into encouraging students to seek help, they haven’t been investing nearly as much into ensuring that the help more and more students are asking for will actually be available. Cornell has stiffed its most crucial tier: providing medical and mental health services. You cannot prevent suicide without mental health maintenance. A person who knows they have an illness called depression can still commit suicide.

Since the 90s, CAPS appointments at Gannett have tripled. Nearly 2,800 students use CAPS each year. There are 21 counselors staffed by Gannett health services; that is about 133 students per counselor. If each student has a weekly appointment (a reasonable level of outpatient care to be expected), each counselor would have 26 one-hour appointments each day. To clarify, this is impossible. Cornell, with all its enthusiasm for mental health awareness, forgot that raised mental health awareness generally leads to a raised demand for mental health treatment. Students told to ask for help are then given help a month after they ask. Contrary to popular belief, being “in” therapy does not work unless you are actually talking to someone on a weekly basis.

Instead of investing its remaining money in mental health maintenance, Cornell has invested it in preventing what happens when someone has been denied mental health services — suicide. Two of the tiers (deliver coordinated crisis management, restrict access to means) are dedicated to this. For one, there are those infamous nets. Additionally, there are crisis hotlines galore and a counselor always available to talk you in person, both resources meant to talk you down. But keep in mind that once you are talked down from suicidal to sad, you will have to wait a month or two before meeting with a therapist again. But please, let them know if you feel suicidal anytime sooner!

Cornell has invested a lot into preventing suicide in the earliest and latest stages of a mental illness. But if you are like me, in the middle stage — diagnosed but with a will to live — you’re shit out of luck.