I went to Counseling and Psychological Services two times this past month to sign up for counseling again. I saw a counselor last year, and talking to someone about my feelings helped tremendously with my anxiety. In that semester, I was able to love myself even more and understand how to better take care of myself mentally. This semester, I thought I could get by without seeing someone but came to the conclusion that I needed to return.
Each time I went into CAPS, I realized that there were at least five people signing up to receive their first session of counseling, which was mind-boggling to me because I was there for just 10 minutes each day. How many more new people walk in each day coming for help, too?
After receiving my initial consultation appointment, I was told there wouldn’t be any open appointments until at least January. I wasn’t frustrated with the staff because they couldn’t do anything about it, but I immediately realized the problem here: It’s not that CAPS has too few staff members, it’s that the rigor of the University of Michigan itself is not healthy for students. Yes, college is not a walk in the park and gives virtually every student extreme difficulty, but the culture of work and competition is particularly burdensome at this school. CAPS conducted a study that shows one-fourth of the University population reported they’ve had thoughts of suicidal ideation. That number could be higher today, which is something that we cannot simply accept and not make changes.
CAPS does have a 24/7 hotline that students can reach out to for emergencies, but admittedly, the hotline can only do so much. Mental health can be a battle every day, especially with the consistent demands the culture of the University puts on its students. Students must act autonomously toward their mental health, though I recognize this is easier said than done. This would mean going to see a doctor to provide medication if you need it, seeing a therapist (they can be expensive, but insurance can help if you have it) or talking to a friend or family member. I had a hard time making this choice. I pushed it off further and further, but eventually my girlfriend helped me to contact an in-town counselor to talk about how to deal with my anxiety again. Students can tell a friend that they need help contacting someone or have conversations with someone they can trust. I recommend seeing a professional, but any sort of counseling that isn’t putting any pressure on an individual is better than not being able to talk through your feelings at all.
With CAPS not having enough time or people to take care of everyone in the way they need, those who need help cannot continue to wait. The pressures of meeting school deadlines, maintaining relationships and competing with the rest of your class are issues that do not go to rest. Those who have reached out for help have already taken a big step in attempting to get help and cannot get discouraged if they have to wait.
Mental health continues to carry a stigma — it’s important to recognize that seeking aid does not mean the individual is weak, but rather that they are strong. So many people keep this as a secret, but the odds are many have multiple friends who share this experience. I have felt alone at times in my anxiety, but have found care and felt understood in finding and talking to friends who have gone through the same anxieties as me.
I’ve had anxiety at this University over multiple things, including not feeling as competent in my studies compared to my peers. I’ve lost sleep planning my responsibilities and feeling stupid after I bombed an exam. These feelings are normal, and competition is bound to happen at one of the top institutions in the world. But the University can do to better address this culture and help those who are struggling to find support for their mental health.
It is not the University’s job to babysit its students, but it should emphasize caring for them as a top priority because it is an overall life priority. I have a professor who allows excused absences for mental health days. It meant the world to me. I felt cared for and understood. This is the type of culture that I hope the rest of the University, both students and staff, will embody. Mental health struggles are real and should not be swept under the rug.
There is a large need for mental health services at Michigan. We are students fighting hard to stay afloat in our classes, extracurriculars and postgraduate opportunities. There are so many of us with anxiety and depression, among other things, which can be triggered by the culture here, traumatic experiences or by a preexisting condition. Don’t wait for help. Keep fighting for it. Your mental health is yours to own, and you cannot shy away from it. You may not need a therapist, but at least talk to someone you trust to talk about how you feel, because you are not alone in your fight.
It’s on the University community to change this culture of competitiveness and to move closer to promoting a better mental health environment. Without so many pressures, many students may not be struggling with feelings of inadequacy and stress. The University is responsible for making the campus accepting of those who need help and to continue making the campus a more mentally stable environment. But the key to improving mental health lies within the individual. The student must attempt to take care of themselves because nobody can make the decision for them. They should ask for help if they can’t get to that point, but it’s imperative that they do, because the mental health problems will continue to mount if they’re not treated once they’re out in the real world.
Chris Crowder can be reached at email@example.com.