A number of recent events have brought the seriously neglected epidemic of mental health issues on college campuses to my attention. These cases have led me to examine the ways in which Bates has emerged ahead of the pack on this front, and also the ways in which it still falls short. The reader will have to excuse the vague nature of this article, as it is a necessary precaution used to protect the privacy of any students whose cases have brought these details to light.
In many ways, Bates succeeds in providing excellent mental health resources to its students. Many who seek counseling services report positive experiences provided by compassionate individuals who truly care about the students with whom they work. These counselors prove to be very helpful in directing students to other resources they might require. All health center professionals – clinical social workers, physicians, nurses, directors, and secretaries – work in a collaborative way in order to determine the best course of action for each student and ensure his or her continued care. The friendly environment of the health center contributes a welcoming feeling for many, something that is absolutely essential for encouraging students to seek the help they need.
However, a number of improvements to the system could be made. Currently, Bates employs one psychiatrist who is available one day a week. She is consistently booked full between the hours of 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM every Friday, and scheduling an appointment often requires two or more weeks of notice. While psychiatric consultations are not necessarily required as often as counseling appointments, this lack of availability is a clear indication that the current system is saturated to the point of overload. Increasing the availability of psychiatrists, even by adding one additional day of appointments every week, could greatly alleviate this strain on the system.
In addition, when issues of mental health begin to affect other aspects of life at Bates, the reaction of the college has displayed a concerning order of priorities. When academic performance becomes a concern, the involvement of the deans is, of course, necessary. However, the process used to address this concern could use an overhaul. Students have reported feeling interrogated, incriminated, and punished as a result of academic shortcomings, as well as made to discuss personal information in an uncomfortable and hostile environment. The goal, it seems, is to maintain the college’s shining academic reputation by making an effort to forcibly remove a struggling student from the school for a considerable period of time, despite any counterarguments citing strong support systems and the availability of resources that may not be as accessible elsewhere.
This should not be the deans’ primary objective. Instead, they should strive to serve the mental, physical, and emotional well being of every student. The college should display genuine concern for the happiness of its students above all, not merely because happy individuals make for successful students, but because it is the right thing to do. Therefore, it is essential that the process evolve to better pursue the achievement of this goal. A more complete collaboration between health center professionals, the deans, and professors could potentially provide a much more comfortable environment for the student involved and will ensure that decisions are made with his or her best interests in mind.
Changes such as these have the potential to drastically improve the lives of a number of Bates students, as well as to create a more compassionate environment for all. It is essential that the college and all associated with it make an effort to continue improving our understanding and treatment of mental illness, as this is an issue that must not be ignored.