Misconceptions harm student access to mental health care

UCC has valuable, accessible mental health resources.

The Binghamton University Community was shocked and saddened by the sudden death on our campus. I realize that people can, out of pain and fear, look for something or someone to blame. In light of the conversations sparked by this event, it is important for information online to relay accurate facts about resources available, not judgements based on years past or rumors online. As a longtime employee, I have seen mental health resources grow exponentially here in many ways. It is important for students to know we are here to help and that help is readily available. We want students to understand how services work and how to access them.

Access to a same-day counseling support is as easy as a phone call for students (607-777-2772). Rapid access to high-quality and caring therapists is free with the semester student health fee, and this is just one of the many mental health resources through many offices on campus (CARE team, HPPS, Residential Life, SSS, Q Center, Multicultural Resource Center, EOP, SSD, ISSS, SEEK, Student Groups … ). Students can access these services through their most difficult times. The University Health and Counseling services maintain the highest quality and confidentiality standards of the medical and mental health professions. Many students have told me their BU therapist is a tough act to follow. The quality is so high I would not hesitate to send anyone I care about to any one of the counselors I work with if I could. There is no current “wait-list,” and there have been continuous improvements to prevent and minimize any wait for services. Students should know that this rapid and high-quality help is rarely offered in the real-world setting — being able to see a therapist that quickly is unheard of in resource limited areas of upstate New York outside of the crowded and overburdened emergency room.

Are there limits to the number of sessions the counseling center can offer? Yes. Does that limit affect the vast majority of students who access care? No. Has that limit enabled the quick access we now have? Yes. The students that need more support are helped to find resources for the condition they have, including referrals to specialists, more intensive therapy or intensive treatment programs.

Mental health care systems are not so different from medical ones. We visit our Primary Medical Provider (MD, DO, NP, PA) with the more common concerns, and as needed, we are referred to specialists. The medical specialty of neurology is the care of the brain as an organ, psychiatry and psychology are the care of the brain as it interacts and is shaped by our experiences with the world. Care of the brain is just as, and often much more, complex than other physical illnesses. The mental health treatment structure has subspecialties to address certain concerns that require a higher level of care. I would want to be referred to that specialized care if needed, which is exactly what we do for our students.

I meet new students struggling every day who question their will to live. I bear witness to stories of recovery and success, and stories of pain and tragedy. Working with students is a privilege, and I enjoy the roles of being a provider and a career mentor on a daily basis. I respect the privacy of my students and realize that all those that see us and have good experiences are hesitant to speak up on social media or in articles for the paper. They are afraid that revealing their use of mental health services publicly, even if they are success stories, could affect their future careers. I would never ask them to use their own experience as proof of the resources we have here, but let me use mine.

The students we work with get quick access to help and we serve a majority of them right here on campus. For those who need specialized care, we help them work through difficulties using their health insurance to ensure continued care. For the future they will know how to figure out providers covered by their insurance plans, online services they did not even realize existed and how to be linked with professionals who may specialize in the disorder they suffer from. They do that search process with UCC Treatment Coordinators, and then they feel confident in taking those steps to access future care, expanding their comfort zone and dealing with the world at large. The college experience includes gaining knowledge to feel more confident in dealing with the world’s systems. Insurance can be complicated and confusing, but it is an important resource you will need to use for the rest of your life. When students do not have insurance, we know where to connect them to help to apply for coverage.

To all those students we have seen in on-campus services, I am so glad we were here to help, and it is a privilege to have a part in getting you to the next step of your lives. If I can speak for my health and counseling colleagues, we celebrate quietly in the background with you when you get through your hard times and gain real life skills, and we feel for you when you suffer in ways that impact your youth and vitality.

We are here for you, and we want you to get help. Please, as online conversations about mental health resources continue, realize that the words you choose in all forms of media can help alleviate suffering and guide people to the care available, or they can make those already suffering give up and assume no one is out there to help. Please choose those words carefully. We are here to help.

Ramona Mazzeo, MD is a guest columnist and works in Decker Student Health Services — Psychiatry.

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