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What will campus do to address students’ health after Mental Health Awareness Month has ended?
Words are some of the easiest things to gift to any cause. They tumble out of our mouths and, in the exchange, help heighten awareness — bring attention to things otherwise shadowed in silence. This month is Mental Health Awareness Month at UC Davis. No doubt you’ve seen events advertised that bolster exposure to the lifestyle folks with mental illnesses must live. But as we stand in solidarity, taking a moment to be enveloped in empathy, I wonder: Where will the action develop after Mental Health Awareness Month has passed?
I have no beef with taking time to chat about the lives lived in which depression swallows folks whole, mania cracks self perception or psychosis relegates bodies to living on the fringes of societies. It’s important and necessary work. For those of us who don’t have to live through these experiences, it’s understandably hard to imagine how folks might experience these journeys that take them through the darkest parts of the human psyche. It’s understandable that it might otherwise be easier to believe that these stories are as real or effective as the Bogeymen — figments of nightmares and mismanaged personal lives.
It’s important to speak of how this is not the case. Exposure cleaves these ideas from skeptical people’s minds. It puts faces and stories to experiences. It deeply humanizes those of us who trudge through invisible struggles. The work of destigmatization is profoundly important. But even as UC Davis is hailed (rightfully so) as the second most active university advocating for mental health awareness, the university and surrounding city of Davis are poor in their mental health resources. So I wonder, for a university that exemplifies such an aptitude in raising awareness for those with mental health maladies, where is the infrastructure backing up this advocacy crusade?
A reasonable response might be, “Take a look at the Student Health and Counseling Services, the LGBTQIA Resource Center, the Women’s Resources and Research Center and the crisis text line. Clearly, there are resources.” But with a student body of over 35,000 and personal anecdatoes of the psychological toll of the quarter system, these resources are paltry, meager offerings for folx who are in pain, mostly acting as crisis intervention care. Unfortunately, this is an era of unprecedented rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Beyond what any one person might attribute these psychological states to, their presence persists and is often reported to be exacerbated or even brought on by the quarter system by which UC Davis operates. (Research is lacking on the psychological effects of the quarter system as opposed to a more leisurely semester option. This study, however, suggests that the quarter system does in fact bring on the comorbidity of stress, anxiety and depression.)
I invite you to dabble in these resources. Many find, myself included, that these underfunded departments are able to offer little more than appointments scheduled months out, the distribution of colorful pamphlets and an encouraging word about joining clubs on campus. They are doing their best, but their best is simply not enough to cater to a hyper-stressed student body. It is not enough for those who additionally have default states of mental illness, and it does not offer comprehensive care continuity to people struggling with these mental states. I struggle with PTSD and major depressive disorder and I can tell you that, with as severe as my symptoms were presenting, it took me over a year to find adequate help. That help came only after I had become apathetic with UC Davis’ species of one-time therapy and looked beyond what the university currently offers.
Another anecdotal account: When I had tried speaking to a counselor at SHCS about passive suicidal ideation — something common in both major depressive disorder and college students — I was strapped, within 15 minutes, to a gurney and forcibly admitted to a hospital. I had no plan, no means or no timeframe, and I had personally sought help and council, hoping that some medication might alleviate the symptoms. Later in the night, my case worker determined I was at no risk to myself. She sent me home so that I might continue my night, in shock, with my cats and my partner. This was only after spending six hours in a hospital, clothed only in a hospital gown, and guarded by an officer who, once his partner arrived, liked to make sneering remarks about the mental health patients he’d been charged with. The next day I continued on, numb, to complete a midterm. I never returned to the SHCS for mental health help due to the fear born of this experience, and I still experience anxiety when visiting for primary care physician appointments. My experience isn’t an isolated one. This is not the earmark of a system constructed to help those who are shackled to despair.
I sincerely believe that UC Davis wishes to help those in need. I believe that it is not the intent of Davis to leave those who suffer to their suffering, to leave those affected by the quarter system to their own psychological squalor. After all, advocacy itself leads to help-seeking behavior. I wonder, though, what then happens when someone in pain reaches out for help and is burned by the framework set in place for their refuge?
The work doesn’t end at advocacy. It doesn’t end at appointing a mental health task force, putting on entertaining events or co-opting personal narratives during Mental Health Awareness Month. The work, the truly difficult work, is in finding funds, spaces, people, programs and allocated time for those who need it.
Written by: Aryss Hearne
The writer is a second-year transfer student studying genetics and genomics and philosophy at UC Davis. She is currently a member of the Disability Issues Administrative Advisory Committee.
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