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The UConn train does not stop for mental illness

By Stephen Friedland
On March 27, 2014

I'm not going to lie, my experience at UConn has been an inexorable, maladaptive struggle since I arrived last January. Masochistically subscribing to the pre-med track, I have sought to pursue a career that requires studying multiple difficult math and science classes at once, none of which I'm inherently good at, and some which aren't even on the MCATs.
In order to excel at school, I have to sacrifice sanity and normal circadian rhythms, but I can't excel at school without either of those things.
What makes the responsibilities of college unbearable, though, is when the workload is crushed further into your chest by a persistent mental illness. I have struggled with severe depression and its insomnia accoutrements for the past year and a half, although it's just a coincidence that that's about as long as I've been at UConn.
I am constantly caught between this "I'm an adult, suck it up" mentality and acknowledging that there is, in fact, something making me have genuine difficulty concentrating, working and sleeping. Something tells me that despite everyone's idiosyncratic pursuits, these sentiments are far from original.
UConn is a really tough school. It understands the liability of not having some sort of treatment center. There are countless support groups for grief and stress management techniques that meet up to four times a week. The counseling center website is very vast, containing PDFs about topics like stress and drug abuse and even downloadable relaxation exercises.
Unfortunately, those that are majorly depressed probably won't tend to find these things useful because many of the sections contain typical, pseudo-alleviating expressions like, "There is something for everyone [on campus], and all it takes is for you to go out and find what interests you!" on the depression PDF. It doesn't work like that; self-destructive people are not apt to seek positive outlets for themselves. These phrases just illustrate the sort of cognitive disconnect between depressed and non-depressed parties.
One glaring flaw with the counseling center is the complete lack of access to immediate one-on-one counseling, arguably one of the most useful means for many trying to cope with college; a confidential hour or so long session with a sympathetic, impartial facilitator when one needs it to purge themselves of myriad difficulties and stressors.
It's something of a bureaucracy. I called them to corroborate this by attempting to schedule an appointment and was told that I could get an appointment in two and a half weeks, and since I hadn't met with anybody in the counseling center, I would have to get assessed via phone before we could truly begin. From then on out, I would have to wait presumably another two weeks to have actual therapy, which really wouldn't be all that therapeutic because I would just be running through slightly more detailed iterations of the initial assessment due to lack of familiarity with the therapist, not to mention it would be the week before finals, thus establishing little to no connection.
They do, however, have an on-call therapist in case of dire emergencies, which is helpful in the event that a student is considering something extreme, but doesn't want 911 involved, although they may be called anyway if the therapist recognizes an impending severity to the situation.
Additionally, you are only allowed roughly eight sessions per academic year with the counseling center due to the immense number of students utilizing it, which means that instead of achieving a steady weekly or biweekly catharsis and cultivating the therapist-client relationship, you almost have to allocate your feelings an appropriate way if therapy is the most optimal means of temporarily assuaging your mental health.
What I suggest is that the counseling center finds a way to expand. While it would cost more money to hire more people and make space accommodations, among other things, the investment is completely worth it because of how in-demand it is to people. These are your students; they pay tuition money and work hard. Teachers aren't going to decrease workloads and the days aren't going to get shorter because college is college, so there ought to be a surefire way for those too sick to find other outlets to get things out of their heads, to breathe more regularly.  


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