Since returning to campus, a new topic of conversation has replaced the usual chatter about mundane schoolwork and muggy frat basements. The subject in question? Mental wellness… or lack thereof.
It is no surprise that people’s mental health has taken a serious blow throughout the past six months in particular. Constant isolation from society, non-stop exposure to the news, and an astronomical increase in social media use has only exacerbated the problem. This combination of factors was a death wish to Ms. Serotonin herself, and for many, returning to campus seemed to be the only antidote.
So, imagine my surprise when I received the news from my on-campus therapist that our weekly sessions would need to be shaved down to monthly meetings. Cue the record scratch and the mental breakdown. Monthly meetings?
Soon after this bomb was dropped, I had the sinking realization that I was one of the fortunate ones. A close friend of mine was told that she would not be seen individually for reccurring appointments at all this semester. Her options? Group therapy or seeing a local therapist in the Winston-Salem area.
That is all well and good, but what about insurance? Personal finances? What if you are uncomfortable with group therapy or have found that individual therapy is most helpful for the struggles you are facing?
So much time and money were funneled into preparing campus for the physical health of students that mental wellness was pushed beyond the backburner. If anything, it became an afterthought.
Now, let it be said loud and clear that this is not a critique of the UCC itself. The UCC took so much on their shoulders over the summer and helped an unprecedented number of clients, not only those located on-campus or in North Carolina, but even students residing in other neighboring states. To them, I am incredibly grateful.
The frustration I hold is not directed at the UCC, but at the resources they were allocated this year. Counseling positions were cut. Some therapists who were able to speak with six to eight clients per day a semester ago are now only able to speak with around ten per week. Even group therapy sessions will be limited in capacity.
In order for students to receive the mental health assistance they require, providers of counseling services need to be properly staffed and funded. Considering the current state of the world, it is a wonder to me how the UCC was not granted additional funding this semester. It feels that students are more prone to develop anxiety and depression than they are to catch COVID-19, yet no proactive steps are being taken. Even a petition created over the summer that called for the maintenance of a fully staffed Counseling Center was brushed aside.
If you have been waiting for a signal to start practicing mindfulness or meditation, this is it.”
I am grateful that there has been a cry to erase the stigma around mental health across campus but calling attention to a problem is only a fraction of the response that needs to be taken. Instagram graphics and colored flags on the Lower Quad are wonderful starting points, but ultimately the UCC needs to be fully staffed and funded if any sustainable relief is to be provided. This change can be promoted and popularized from the bottom up, but it is the people in positions of power who can make this reality come into fruition.
If you or someone you know is struggling, do not shy away from asking for help. Please take advantage of the current offerings the UCC is able to provide. Maybe you love group therapy or need to talk to someone briefly. If that is the case, call the counseling center and set up an appointment. Perhaps you want to learn some anxiety coping-skills and could sign up for Koru, an online mindfulness program. Maybe you feel very lonely right now and will benefit from calling the 24/7 counseling service number.
Furthermore, please let this be a reminder that you need to put in work to continue to help yourself as well. If you have been waiting for a signal to start practicing mindfulness or meditation, this is it. Download the Headspace app, start off each day by writing out positive intentions, spend time in nature, limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, drink more water than you could ever imagine, and be kind to yourself. You can do this. You are not alone.