Monday, November 09, 2009

No help for students here

Last week was "Disability Awareness Day" at the college where I work, and where I sometimes take classes. I took time off work, took a lot of information from NAMI, and a display board, and set up a table to represent NAMI and to provide mental health resources for people who need them. Just like last year when I did this, there were no other groups there that had anything to do with mental health. All of the organizations focused on other disabilities. Unfortunately, though I do not regret doing this, I did not reach much of an audience. Few students came by any of the tables, and even fewer came by mine.

When one group of young students stopped by, a guy with curly black hair about, 19 years old, was openly laughing at the mention of "mental health". I said, "These are brain diseases. They affect people's brains, just like any other disease affects the body. They are physical and sometimes genetic. There is a lot of stigma that surrounds these illnesses and that's because people are not educated about them." The laughing fool looked confused. He went to take the last copy I had a of a resource book just because his friends were picking things up (as they at least seemed interested), and I told him not to take it if he wasn't going to use it as that was my last copy. He put it back as he had no intention of reading it.

But, that was the negative side. On the positive end, there were a couple of people who had questions about mental illness and about NAMI. And it was worthwhile to be there just for them.

This college offers no resources for mental illnesses whatsoever. This day of giving out information at one campus for two hours, one day a year, is the only thing I know of that they do at all which relates to mental health, and the only reason that relates to mental health is because I'm there with some pamphlets. There are no counselors for students to go to. There is not even a sign with a suicide hotline on it anywhere. There is nothing. This college has nine campuses and many thousands of students. My friend who is a professor at one campus has told me repeatedly that he tries to get the college administration to open up a counseling center for students who need help, and these people don't listen. He has told me of many students who crossed paths with him, who needed mental health assistance. I find this college's lack of concern about this issue to be ridiculous and disgusting.

Young adulthood is the time period when Schizophrenia usually starts. It is also the time when Bipolar Disorder sometimes starts. It is a time when many people deal with stress and depression, some attempting suicide. Many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan also come to college here, and my professor friend is concerned for their well-being as well. Many of them deal with Post-Traumatic Stress. The college offers no resourcs for them either.

What the college does offer, is something called a Male Outreach Initiative. This is an actual department in the college devoted to increasing the number of males who attend this school. They offer special services just for men. There is a women's center, too, but it's not really funded well, nor is it large enough to help women with anything. There is ono women's group on this college's campuses, no feminist organization of any kind. There are no mental health support groups. There is really not much of anything to assist a female student, such as myself, who goes to this school and needs some help. They leave you to fend for yourself.

Since it's a community college, I realize funds are an issue. But at the same time, because it's a community college, it's huge and it's the only large college in this county. There are tons of students of all ages, and if mental illness affects one in four people, as the statistics show it does, then there are thousands of students here who could use help. I know there were times in the past when I was lost, confused, horribly depressed, delusional, and suicidal at this college, and that I went and sat there in the library, or on a bench outside, or in a class, in a state of crisis and confusion, with no one to turn to other than, say, a professor whose job it is to teach English Composition 1101 and not practice psychiatry.

This is not acceptable. This situation is in need of correction, but obviously mental health resources are not available in many other schools, and in society at large, either. There is a waiting list about a year long to get into the community mental health center that I go to, if you're a new patient. If you have no insurance and no money, you may be eligible for this one clinic in downtown St. Petersburg, for which you need a referral from a physician, to get your medications temporarily, but you may not be eligible for that even if you manage the 45 minute trip to get there during the office hours.

While I'm glad there may soon be a health care reform bill that passes through the Senate, I am left to wonder when adequate mental health care will be available for all the citizens who need it in the United States. Probably not in my lifetime.


  1. Hey Jen! I just got back from our monthly NAMI meeting here and it was a really good meeting. We watched some of the Minds on the Edge documentary, then had discussion. I think that is great that you set up at the college. I know your frustration about getting the help that is needed at all colleges and high schools. We have to just keep going out there and trying. Hope you are having a good week!

  2. Hi! I've been reading your blog and it's really fantastic. It's great to read the writings of others who experience mental illness.

    I also want to commend you on your efforts to raise awareness at the college. It's so frustrating when mental health isn't recognized as important and/or a real type of disability.

    I'd like to link to your blog from mine, which is , if you don't mind.

    Thanks and i'll surely keep reading!


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