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Mental Health or Academic Wealth?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-injurious behaviors

Mental health struggles are gaining awareness in the public eye, and for a good reason. Up to 44% of college students reported having symptoms of depression and anxiety. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for college students. These are stark and startling statistics, and I am one of the individuals who contributed to that number in my junior year of college.

Depression, anxiety, and suicide are significant issues that college students face as a result of the stressors that are placed upon them. Some of these stressors are institutional, environmental, and social. Institutionally, the course load and immense pressure of excelling in college is burdensome as is, with deadlines, due dates, projects, and papers. The stress of simply being in school is significant enough to cause anxiety at minimum. Environmental stressors that college students experience, with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has especially contributed to these statistics.

Environmental stressors that students face include issues of housing insecurity due to the pandemic, technology resource insecurity, and a job market stifled by the minimum wage that does not adequately cover living expenses. In my personal experience, this area of stress was one of the largest contributors to my mental illness in college.
I was working a minimum wage job at a bagel shop, as many college students do, and attending school full-time and remotely since the start of the pandemic. I was living paycheck to paycheck and had the added stress of deadlines and projects due for five different courses I was taking. The fantasy of escaping it all and having all the stress stop, even if only temporarily, led me to the hospitalization I experienced after making an attempt on my life.

I notified my professors of my hospitalization and subsequent inpatient visit and by law they had to contact the counseling and health department of the school. Instead of being sent to the school counseling center for therapy after my hospitalization, I was told that I could not return to school until I had received a note from a doctor saying that I was fit to return. I felt like a statistic that had to jump through hoops to prove my worth as a student instead of someone valued and cared for by my academic community. The support I received from the systems of the school were non-existent, however my professors were more than understanding and empathetic.

I have since been in recovery from mental illness for almost two years now. I had the privilege of seeking outside help and being supported by my family and clinicians I had in my hometown. There are many individuals without the privilege of these resources who rely on institutional support for their wellbeing. My experience is proof that universities are not providing life-saving support in an accessible and meaningful way.
There must be a call to action to provide students with more comprehensive and accessible mental health care from universities themselves. Colleges need to show human empathy and provide life saving resources to the students they claim to value so significantly.

Bailey McCarty is a member of Young Invincibles-New York’s 2022 Spring Young Advocates Program.