pinkyellowgreenIt’s hard to admit that you need help, and when you finally do and reach out for it, it’s a hard blow when you don’t receive the help that you need.

Because I have student health insurance, the place I am supposed to go for counseling is the school’s counseling services, which are part of the student health center.

I was really hesitant to use their services, but I knew that I needed help in dealing with my dad passing away.

I contacted the director of health services, explained the situation, and was able to get an appointment fairly quickly.

That’s where the good part ends.

On the day of my appointment, I went to health services. The waiting room sort of smelled like something died.

Then this girl – and I say girl because even though I look young, this girl looked even younger than me, appeared.

She was wearing a tight, sleeveless white dress, and neon pink, yellow, and green shoes with six inch heels.

While I try not to judge people by appearance, it was a little hard not to. There was a lack of professionalism in the way this person was dressed that sort of made me question the kind of people that my school attracts for this type of job.

And it only got worse from there.

She dragged me up three very harrowing flights of stairs – as the health center is not handicap accessible and does not have an elevator – up to a room that had no fan or air conditioning, and mind you, it was 90 degrees that day.

As I sat there, with a mix of sweat and tears dripping into my eyes, I knew that this was not the therapeutic relationship I was looking for.

This woman gave me 15 minutes to tell her my entire life story, proceeded to give me a card for a suicide hotline, and told me to go online and download some mindfulness exercises so that I could be more present in my life.

Did she listen to a word I said? My dad died. I’m not suicidal, but my world as I knew it was turned upside down, and the best she could do was mindfulness exercises?

I felt like someone was playing a trick on me. Did this really just happen? Did all of this go down the way I thought it did?

Needless to say, I cancelled the follow-up appointment that I had made with her, and told the health center via voicemail that I didn’t want to reschedule.

I didn’t make a big deal of the situation because I don’t want to get this person in trouble. It’s just that this was not what I need right now.

It left an awful taste in my mouth, and confirmed for me yet again that institutions of higher education have a lot to learn about chronically ill students, handicapped students, and clearly, about the quality and availability of mental health services.

I again find myself pigeonholed. I am not an uncomplicated 18 to 24 year old. I am 29 years old, I am chronically ill, and I tragically lost my dad six weeks ago.

I don’t need some teenybopper waltzing into my life to tell me that I need to be more present in my own life. I was present, and look what happened.

In my PhD program, I used the school’s counseling services. I had really great experiences. I know some friends who didn’t, but I never really heard anything to the degree of what I experienced at my new school.

And I don’t usually jump to conclusions. I usually give people more than one chance. But in this situation, I simply could not. At the rate I was going, I would have needed to go to therapy about my therapy.

The main thing I keep thinking is that you get what you pay for, and these services are free. But as I said, the services at my old school were free, and were far superior to anything that I think I’ll ever receive at my new school.

So for now, I found a great therapist – really, she’s amazing – who doesn’t accept insurance, and has offered to negotiate down her normal rate. It still means I’ll be paying more than I can really afford, but that’s life. I need therapy right now, and I guess it is probably a worthwhile investment at this point.

But it’s frustrating when an institution is so convinced that its services are unbeatable that they provide you with no other (free or low cost) options for care.

For a long time, I’ve heard students rail against mental health services at colleges and universities, but I never really got it. I hadn’t experienced that myself. But now that I have, I realize that something needs to change. Higher education has a long way to go, on a lot of fronts.

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