It's OK To Not Be OK.
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Health and Wellness

It's OK To Not Be OK.

A look at the mental health services offered at Cal Poly.

It's OK To Not Be OK.
Gary Waters/Ikon Images/Corbis

First, for whoever is reading this, I want you to know that it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to feel lost, alone, hopeless. Whatever it may be, wherever you may be; it is OK. I say these words to you because this may be the first time you’ve ever heard them. If it is the first time, please know that they’re true and that I, regardless of knowing me personally, am looking out for you.

As years progress further into the 21st century, we are now facing a mental health crisis in colleges and universities in America. Cal Poly, being a large public university, is certainly no exception to this crisis. A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness has found some startling evidence pointing to the drastic effect of mental illness on college students ages 18-24. NAMI found that 1 in 3 students reported prolonged periods of depression, 1 in 4 students reported having suicidal thoughts or feelings, 1 in 5 students have a diagnosable mental illness, and 50 percent of students reported their mental health at below average or poor. These numbers are startling, exacerbated by 70 percent of students getting less than eight hours of sleep a night (Journal of Adolescent Health 2009).

Mental health issues are now plaguing a larger amount of students than ever before. With suicide being the second leading cause of death for people ages 18-24, it’s clear this has become a crisis we should be paying attention to. Luckily, many large universities are putting forth large efforts to improve and educate their individual college populace on mental illness. Cal Poly, unfortunately, is not one of these universities.

In the most recent diversity email, President Armstrong gave us a proposed action plan that included raising mental health awareness and had noted that a program had been started to achieve this effect. Sadly, students have not yet seen the results of this program. It is set to finish in 2017.

In the meantime, students watch as emails come through offering careful word choice about a student’s “passing,” followed by a long paragraph about the counseling services offered by the school. The only large group mental health awareness comes in Week of Welcome, where one day is spent bonding over sad interview videos and a meaningful art show. Let’s break down these services and examine their effectiveness on the student population.

Currently, the school offers a 24/7 counseling hotline that can be called in case of emergency (of course, in an emergency, please do not hesitate to call 911). There is also the counseling center where you can do a walk-in appointment or make one ahead of time. These appointments are made with counselors/therapists with varied years of experience. Sadly the counseling center is only open 8 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., so nightly walk-ins, when mental health issues are more likely to arise, aren’t available. To warn you ahead of time, it is recommended that you see a counselor a maximum of six times, unless it is a more severe case, after which they will refer you to someone in SLO, where the average appointment waiting time for new patients can be up to three months. This short number of times is ridiculous, considering therapy can take years and six sessions certainly doesn’t do much to infuse trust into the counselor-student bond.

If you are one of the 1 in 5 college students with a diagnosable mental illness, you can see one of the occasionally available part-time psychiatrists. In case you didn’t catch that, I said PART-TIME PSYCHIATRISTS. Wonderful appointments where you get a whole 20 minutes with a psychiatrist for them to diagnose you with a life-altering mental illness and assign you medication based on that. But, because of schedules, most students see one of the physicians on staff at the health center separate from the counseling offices.

Furthermore, the counseling center offers occasional workshops on positive health practices and several counseling group sessions though those are likely to not be your first effort towards improving your own mental condition.

If these do not sound like they work for you, then there is always PULSE’s peer counseling program where you can speak with someone who has had eight hours of training about the issues plaguing your life. At which point, if you seriously mention suicide or the like, you will be referred to a medical professional, anyway. But if test anxiety is what you’re feeling, the PULSE peer counselors will be sure to tell you about mindfulness and give you five minutes in the electric massage chair.

These efforts, if you can call them that, are minuscule compared to the overwhelming effect of mental illness on students. With only 50 percent of students having mental illness related knowledge before entering college, it should be the prerogative of Poly to make a thorough and integrated effort towards mental health improvement on campus.

I write this article after recently having a friend at Poly who felt the calling for peace perhaps too early in his beautiful, yet pained life. For privacy concerns, I will say that the email detailing a students “passing” is always just vague enough to raise concern. Many of us may forget the significant and horrific impact a mental illness can have on a person's life. Hopefully, we can be reminded of this impact through positive outreach, rather than a "Campus-wide Announcement of Student Death."

Many large public universities across the country tackle this issue far better than Cal Poly. Most have some form of outreach program dedicated to awareness and education surrounding many issues including race, gender, and mental illness. Some go further than this, such as Cornell University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Minnesota, who have gotten a “Health Campus Award” from Active Minds for having integrated and extensive mental health awareness and support services. The criteria for this includes things like how publicized are their services, how many students are aware of the services, and the ratio of professional help to the student population.

Once a week, all third-year architecture students gather for an hour to go over topics that affect all of us. If during one of these hour-long classes, someone would tell all of us that things are going to be OK and that it’s OK to not be OK, it would make an immensely large difference.

People would be surprised at the amount of difference several sentences can make. To know that other people are feeling the same as you, just as lost as you, or just as hurt as you, can make a life-saving amount of difference.

I would like to end this article with some resources for any readers who aren’t ready to take the step to see professional help, or feel that it’s not necessary for them at this stage of their lives. Hopefully, this article reaches enough people to make some difference in the mental health services available currently at Cal Poly. At the very least, I hope that this brings a level of awareness about a serious issue to those who read this.

Just remember, it's OK not to be OK. Things will get better.

List of Resources:

Is an app focused on self-compassion and daily gratitude.

A website focused on calming daily anxiety.

A space to pour out your thoughts and find some peace.

For some compassion from strangers.

A daily meditation app to help practice mindfulness.

And of course, the Cal Poly counseling center is open from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Monday through Friday. The psychological crisis hotline is available 24/7 at 805-756-2511. For life threatening emergencies please dial 911.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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