I’ve never been one to address my mental health head on. It was something I always brushed under the rug, wished not to pay attention to and thought it didn’t negatively infringe on my life.
That was, until I came to college.
Many students struggle with a transitional period when they start college and as much as I thought I could escape this horrifying reality, I was no exception. Upon beginning my time at Lehigh, my mental health spiraled and confused me in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
Just weeks into school, I was already not feeling great. I was struggling to form connections, manage my schoolwork without being overwhelmed, and I was simply not feeling like my normal self.
After my 10th phone call of the day with my mom, who desperately tried to give me advice on how to cope with this transitional period, she said the words I was dreading all along.
“You should really speak to someone at Lehigh’s counseling office,” she said.
Rolling my eyes over the phone, I claimed that it would never help me, but my mom incessantly reminded me that that’s what they are here for.
Despite my original resistance, one gray day finally convinced me. I knew what I had to do.
My heart raced as I made a phone call to the counseling office.
Walking up the many flights of stairs in Johnson Hall was a feeling I will never forget, but also one of the best decisions I have made since coming to Lehigh. I was not only doing myself a service by meeting with Amanda Peterson, my allocated counselor, but also I was opening myself up to a potential future filled with professional help.
Time after time, I sat in the big comfy chair in Peterson’s office as I bounced ideas back and forth with her, feeling encouraged as though I had somebody to listen to, to talk to and to have someone work through my struggles.
I was finally seeing and reaping the benefits I had heard so many rave about from regularly seeing a therapist.
Recently, at the end of one of our sessions, Peterson gently reminded me that we were nearing our final meetings together. It was then that I learned of the university policy that individuals may only receive one-on-one counseling for six to eight sessions before being recommended to group counseling or having to seek help from a professional off campus.
My heart sank and I instantly burst into tears in her office. I had finally invited someone in and was making progress personally, and now I was being told it was going to shortly come to an end.
Peterson kindly acknowledged how I was feeling but that it was not her decision. She explained how universities do not have enough resources to meet on a long-term basis with every student they see. She promised me that we were going to work together to figure out my next steps, and while I trusted her, I was, and still am, terrified.
Despite many viable options to move forward, I could not push away the question running through my head — how could Lehigh not be able to provide me with the long-term help that I need?
While group therapy is a great method for many, I know myself and made the decision to work toward seeing someone off-campus, but to me, that means starting over. I had formed a connection with Peterson, trusted her and looked forward to seeing her.
Starting over was going to be challenging. It takes time to form a connection and find someone who is a good fit. Peterson has been with me since the beginning of my time at Lehigh. She knows where I came from and could help me see where I was heading. She understands me.
Personally, I am lucky to be in a position with extremely supportive parents who have the financial resources and are willing to work with me to find someone to see off campus. However, for many students, this is not their reality.
There are students at Lehigh who barely have the money to afford textbooks, let alone the money to seek professional help which is extremely expensive. In addition to not having financial support, many students lack emotional support to explore off-campus options. It brings a plethora of issues for students, including finding means of transportation and altering already busy college schedules. It makes it extremely undesirable to go through so many additional measures to face an already challenging task.
Due to the extreme prominence of mental illnesses on college campuses nationwide, universities need to reevaluate their resources, how they distribute money and the way they prioritize the issue of mental health.
As Lehigh embarks on the Path to Prominence, the university is expanding rapidly. If Lehigh decides that spending their money on modern buildings and new dorms is more important than ensuring that students have access to mental health assistance, they are in for a wake-up call.
Lehigh is planning on adding 1,000 new students over the next several years, and in doing so will inevitably have more students who need access to these resources. They must build the capacity to serve.
Lehigh does a lot to address mental health on campus, but can definitely do more. Universities across the country face similar issues, lacking opportunities to adequately serve every single student to their fullest potential. Colleges must prioritize how they are meeting the needs of their students. Mental health needs to come first, and we need the resources to be able to help every student as they endure the college experience.
Gabrielle is an Associate Lifestyle Editor for the Brown and White. She can be reach at [email protected]