Mental health care at Eau Claire makes the grade

Newsweek article reveals shortcomings in mental health at many universities; our practices fare better

Story by Katie Bast, News Editor

About a year ago, I went to Student Health Service with a cough. I left with a bottle of cough syrup and a diagnosis of depression. At the time, everyone was asked to fill out a depression screening and mine indicated I should seek further consultation with the Counseling Services on campus.

The screening was free, the appointment was free, and the recommendation for counseling was just that: a recommendation. I received gentle emails reminding me to make an appointment, but assuring me I was in no way obligated. I was able to make the decision on my own time.

On Feb. 11, Newsweek Magazine published an article on their website titled “How Colleges Flunk Mental Health.” Testimonials from students and data from experts reveal that many colleges aren’t handling mental health in a way that’s effective for the student.

The article said several universities have rules in place against self-harm in their codes of conduct. A consultant on law and policy issues for universities, Gary Pavela said in the article he noticed many schools would remove students with mental health problems on medical grounds and not give them a chance. By implementing these rules, he said he hoped to find ways to keep students in school by threatening expulsion if they refused help.

This is the wrong way to approach the situation and ultimately it can’t be effective. People with mental health problems can’t be forced into anything. Threatening expulsion isn’t necessarily going to motivate people to get help. Especially considering Pavela’s “fix” was meant to help students adverse to help, threats aren’t going to make them more willing.

According to the American College Health Association’s most recent national survey, 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed it was difficult to function.” With numbers like this, universities should be doing everything they can to make sure students feel safe.

It’s frustrating to see some schools not accept mental disabilities. But luckily for us, UW-Eau Claire isn’t one of those schools. In fact, we have many services in place to help students who need it.

My experience at Student Health Services led me to Counseling Services on campus. Director of SHS Laura Chellman said the two services work closely together. SHS provides medication when necessary and Counseling Services provides therapy.

“There are a lot of resources on campus for people and they just need to reach out to get help,” Chellman said. “We in college health think, especially for mental health, there are enough roadblocks for people and we don’t want access to care or finances to be other ones.”

Counselor and Case Manager at Counseling Services Luke Fedie said it generally takes about five minutes to schedule an appointment and they pride themselves on being able to offer an appointment within five days of someone calling to schedule an appointment.

One area Eau Claire could improve is making sure students aren’t letting mental health problems affect their classwork. As professors read the syllabus on the first day, one thing they always breeze through is the section on Services for Students with Disabilities. For the most part, this means physical and learning disabilities.

As it is, the Students with Disabilities section of syllabi reads something like this: “Any student who has a disability and is in need of classroom accommodations, please contact the Services for Students with Disabilities Office in Old Library 2136 at the beginning of the semester.”

To me, that doesn’t make it seem like a place to go for help when mental health problems affect school work. In fact, until I started investigating, I didn’t know the office served students with mental health problems. Awareness is key when it comes to getting help with mental health problems.

Director of Services for Students with Disabilities, Vicky Thomas said students need to provide documentation from a licensed professional that they have a diagnosed psychological disability. Things like anxiety and depression fall into this category, she said.

“We help them have an equal playing field in class, achieve the same academic standards as others,” Thomas said.

Most of the services they offer for students with mental health issues are special arrangements for exams, she said.

If students need help, it should be on their terms. Eau Claire provides the services necessary without being overbearing.