The first time that I went to get help with the university’s mental health services—a step that took a lot of me to make—I left the entire experience feeling smaller, less heard and less supported than I had in a long time. This was due almost entirely to directional errors and logistical oversights.
It’s important to note that I know that the university is trying. Mental health is a sensitive topic for many, and a fragile area to treat. But in that respect, even more so, it must be confronted with massive intention and care. It takes a lot of courage to own up to needing help with your mental health. It takes so much to step out of yourself for long enough to advocate for yourself, so much to recognize self-attacking patterns and confront them, so much to actually call an office and tell a stranger over the phone that you are too sad or stressed to keep doing life in the way that you have, and that you would please like to make an appointment with another stranger who will try to make it feel more okay. It's vulnerable and it's scary and it's often a daunting step for people to take.
On the day that I had my first appointment, I walked into Close-Hipp feeling shaky and nervous and small. I accidentally walked into the advising section of the building thinking that advising and counseling were synonymous (they seem like pretty similar concepts.) After being politely informed that I was in the wrong place, I took a lonely and clinical elevator ride to the strange and desolate fifth floor of Close-Hipp. I waited in a big, uncomfortable room, which felt impersonal and cold, for about twenty minutes before they realized I had been misinformed over the phone. They told me that they were splitting appointments between locations, that I had been sent to the wrong building, and to please go to the fourth floor of the old health center. By the time I walked through even more empty hallways, my time was up, and I had to simply reschedule my appointment. I was sweaty and tired and felt lost and unsupported. I had desperately brought myself to this department, handed the depths of myself over to people I didn’t know, and left the experience feeling stepped on. In fact, I felt worse, and the frightening truth of it is that lack of intentionality in this department can mean dangerous circumstances for students. I could have been in a much lower place that day, a place I’ve known before, and that day could have driven me into a lower and unsafe position. Not just me, any student. It’s frightening.
And then, in a moment of serendipitous irony, Garnet & Black assigns to me the prompt “Should the mental health services get their own building as proposed? — or does this stigmatize students going to the building?”
I know that there are so many people in that department who care, who are good at their jobs and who want more than anything to see students that are succeeding, growing, learning how to be kind to themselves. But it is so important to note that setting and environment, the quality and characteristics of these spaces where that department lives, have enormous effects on mental well-being and receptivity. A comfortable, warm, accepting environment can design a comforted, relaxed, hopeful headspace. Mental illness is such a serious issue, and those struggling on campus need a more intentional space to feel heard in, to feel at home in.
Mentally unstable places are terrifying and lonely and can be affected drastically by even the most minor or subtle things. For students to feel mentally unstable, and then also put themselves into an unfamiliar location, that unfamiliar location had better be welcoming them with open arms, with warm colors and clear directions and a dedicated, specific setting. The significance of that necessity cannot be overstated.