Students left behind

HCDS has failed to really connect with students suffering from mental health issues

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Illustration by Michaella Fortune

Abby Andrew, ArtSci ‘15

After three years of dealing with Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS), I’m convinced that Queen’s mental health initiative has yet to come to fruition.

As someone who suffers from depression, which developed during my first year at Queen’s, I know that myself and other students haven’t received the care from our school that we’ve been promised.

The Principal’s Commission on Mental Health was created in 2011 to address a desperate need for better resources on campus to support students who suffer from mental illness. An extensive series of reports were published in fall 2012 to combat this issue.

The Commission made over 100 recommendations in their reports, ranging from a focus on creating a supportive environment, encouraging students to seek help and ultimately having an “effective response, service and care.” What’s on paper, however, has yet to be realized within HCDS, and students like myself are feeling the brunt of this inadequacy.

I understand that change takes time and patience. But at the core of mental health rehabilitation is connecting with someone who’s ill and ensuring they don’t feel like they have to face each day alone. I experienced the opposite of this during my first trip to HCDS.

When I look back at my experience in residence, my memories are filled with those of confusion, sadness and fury. This was when I first began to develop depression, and I definitely didn’t know how to handle it.

The posters on every door in my residence said you should go to HCDS if you needed help, so that’s what I did. I soon realized this building operated more like a factory. Students were brought in, given a quick “fix” for their issue and sent away. The personal element, which is so key to mental health treatment, was missing.

The doctor I saw could tell I was struggling and knew something had to be done. He prescribed me an anti-depressant.

To this day, I can’t remember the name of the doctor that made this important and life-changing decision for me. I spoke to him for a mere 10 minutes, and a prescription had already been drawn up for me.

As I was depressed and desperate to feel better, I took the pills happily with the hope that my life would change. Nothing happened.

I found this whole process to be extremely isolating – the opposite of the ideology HCDS seems to purport on a daily basis.

The Principal’s Commission on Mental Health rightly emphasizes that a safe environment must be created to encourage students to come forward with mental health issues. But when a student does come forward, those interactions are integral to their further rehabilitation.

A student who reaches out for help and is instead given a rushed prescription can be turned off from seeking help. That’s what happened to me.

In retrospect, medicine wasn’t what I needed at the time. What I needed was a doctor that would listen to me, support me and, above all, remember my name.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for three years, and the doctor who prescribed them to me has never followed up. I now rely on medicine to balance the level of serotonin in my brain, and I’m skeptical as to whether I need it.

My rehabilitation still relies on much more than medicine, and I didn’t feel that Queen’s could provide me this support. A bottle of pills isn’t personal support.

That day, the doctor handed me a list of therapists in the city that would be able to help me. I felt that I was being passed off to someone else because the school couldn’t deal with me. I had been outsourced.

It made me feel that my problems were too complex for them. The list of these therapists fell to the bottom of my bag and I never saw it again.

After going to HCDS, I made an appointment with a counselor in Victoria Hall to seek guidance. I entered her office and poured out my feelings, but I felt as though I got very little back in return. I needed a solid foundation for care that simply doesn’t exist at this school.

I’ve received counseling services and accommodation notes for assignments — yet I still often feel on my own.

It’s clear that mental health is a concern at Queen’s. In the 2013 National College Health Assessment Survey, 70 per cent of Queen’s students said they’d felt “very lonely” in the preceding 12 months and 73.2 said they’d felt “very sad”. These are numbers that need to change.

Different surveys should be taken now. Queen’s should ask its students if the support they’ve been provided here is enough. They should ask for consistent feedback about HCDS and its doctors and counselors.

I encourage the University to seek out these opinions from students, and for students to go out of their way to tell HCDS what they need from them. Permanent, systemic change is in the works, but the process can be sped up to help students at Queen’s who don’t have the luxury of waiting years for proper help.

Abby Andrew is a fourth-year English major.

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