It doesn’t take much more than a quick Google search to find instances of college campuses reacting poorly to students in mental health crises. Mentally ill students are often demonized, blamed and condemned for their health problems, and sometimes end up kicked off campuses.
Imagine my nervousness, when I, a mentally ill college student, was called to the Westhampton College Dean’s office to talk about my mental illness. I walked into Dean Fankhauser’s office with my guard fully up, ready to prove to her that I wasn’t a dangerous, crazy student. I answered all her questions as sanely as possible, underplaying my struggles to exist on such a perfectionistic campus while depression ate me up day after day. I practically denied the existence of the demons in my head convincing me that I was useless and worth nothing. I put on my happy face and breezed in and out of that meeting.
She wasn’t quite what I had expected though. For one, she actually seemed to care about me as a person, and not as a problem. She didn’t seem ready to kick me out, but rather ready to help me out. These things stuck with me throughout the next week, all the way through to the day of my own personal crisis.
It was September 11, and I didn’t want to exist anymore. My friends were at a loss of how to handle me, and I felt I had exhausted all my resources. The sticky note with Dean Fankhauser’s information still hung above my desk. Hours later I was in her office, confessing that I hadn’t quite been truthful the last time we’d met. She nodded, praised me for coming to her again, and started the process to get me the help I needed.
Others at the University helped me through the following 5-day hospital stay in the middle of the semester and its aftermath. I owe thanks to Lisa Miles of Common Ground and Rob Hodous of InterVarsity, whose visits, flowers and prayers meant more to me than I can possibly express, and whose ability to see past the depression and through to me, who I really am, were life-changing. I am thankful for my professor, Dr. Berry, who asked me if everything was ok and actually cared about the answer, and for Mrs. Cross at CAPS, whose unconditional positive regard and warm ways make it easy to walk into counseling. I am also thankful to Dr. LeViness at CAPS, who continued to treat me like a normal human being when I felt like a fragile and sick one.
Most of all I am thankful for Dean Fankhauser, for making me want to come back to see her.
Colleges around America, take notice. This is how you handle mental health crises. If your students were struck by cancer, you’d no doubt support them, validate them, and care for them. I did not cause my mental illness, and I don’t deserve to be blamed for the problems it triggers. I want to spend the rest of my time here thanking this university for the wonderful staff it hires, a staff that truly and honestly cares for its students as people, not problems.
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I want to share my story with whoever will listen because I know I am not the only depressed person on this campus. I know there are so many students here who need to know about the resources that this campus offers.
Go to CAPS. Seriously, go. Try every counselor there if you have to. I myself have seen 4 different ones in my three years here.
Go to your dean’s office. They care. They are here to support you in any way that you need them to.
Go to the chaplaincy. Go to Common Ground. Go to your professors. Pick any adult on this campus and tell them you’re hurting. If that doesn’t work out, tell someone else. There are people here who love you and value your life. You are important. Without you, we would not be the same Richmond we are today. So please, reach out. There are so many people who are here to help.
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