Editor’s note: The following is a piece submitted by a Belmont student. The views and opinions expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Belmont Vision. Letters to the editor help us accomplish our mission of expressing “student news, student views.” The Vision welcomes readers to submit letters to the editors through our email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This editorial was written by Belmont sophomore Tommy Kessler.
When I first saw the Vision article about how cuts had been made to Counseling Services, I felt like I was going to throw up. It caught me completely off guard. I felt like a part of something that I loved very dearly had been taken away from me. Though I haven’t been to Counseling Services since last November, it has shaped my life in ways I never would have anticipated when I walked into their office to schedule my first appointment.
If it weren’t for Counseling Services, I never would have taken the first steps I needed to treat the two diagnoses I have recently received. I never would have taken the steps needed to find out that I not only have Generalized Anxiety Disorder but am also bipolar.
Last September, I found myself afraid to go places. I couldn’t be around people. I sometimes couldn’t leave my room. I couldn’t escape the lingering paranoia that everyone was against me. It was as if everybody else was in on some sick joke at my expense.
I couldn’t trust my closest friends. I feared for them and feared that I was always being lied to by them. Regardless of the situation, I always feared the worst would happen. I thought about death a lot.
I was having what I now realize was an unhealthy number of panic attacks — I guess any number above zero is unhealthy — sometimes just from having to walk through crowds to get from Russell to McWhorter for class. At the time, I’m not sure I could have accurately labeled them as “panic attacks.” I just knew that something was horribly wrong. I didn’t feel like myself. Worst of all, I didn’t know who I had become.
The issue multiplied as I continued to refuse to seek help. I was scared as to what news I’d receive if I saw a counselor. Even though there was clearly some sort of mental illness at play, seeing a counselor meant admitting it, putting it into words, being vulnerable. My recognizing that it was in fact an illness in the first place took what felt like an eternity.
Thankfully, I had friends who had been to Counseling Services before, and they walked me through what the intake process looked like and assured me that although there was no guarantee my problems would be “fixed,” Counseling Services would at least get me started in managing them.
I got paired up with Adriel, one of the counselors who was recently cut. I remember sitting in a chair in the waiting for what felt like hours — in reality it was only a few minutes — taking notice of the paintings on the walls, the various magazines and trinkets that adorned the bookshelves and tables, anything to take my mind off the gnawing suspicion that I was about to receive bad news.
And then he called me into his office, sat me down, and introduced himself, and I told him everything. I told him symptoms of my illness that I had never told anybody before, at least not in enough detail to actually give them a picture of what I had been going through.
After I finished unloading, he immediately pointed out specific symptoms that he had ways for me to begin combating. He gave me language to talk about what I was going through. And, most importantly, he explained to me what cognitive behavioral therapy was and got me started on it. This was all within my first meeting.
I already began to see improvements as I attempted to complete the “homework” Adriel gave me to try and combat specific triggers for my anxiety. I continued meeting with him every two weeks for the rest of the semester up until the week before finals when I had reached the maximum number of sessions I could attend per Belmont policy.
I was able to talk to strangers again, able to go to large social gatherings. I no longer distrusted people I cared about and was actually able to accept the fact people did care about me. I was more confident and optimistic than I had ever been. I had also gained somebody I knew I could talk to if any of my prior symptoms reared their ugly heads again, and I am forever thankful for that.
I will never forget Adriel telling me how big of an improvement he saw in me between my first and last sessions, and he was right. I was amazed at how much better I felt, at how much more comfortable I was with myself. And it was all thanks to the convenience and care of Counseling Services.
Granted, that wasn’t the end of my battle with mental illness. I relapsed into a deep depression the beginning of spring semester that got bad enough to where I needed psychiatric and medicinal help. But, once again, none of that would have happened if I hadn’t had access to help in the first place.
I don’t know the reasoning behind the cuts that have been made to Counseling Services, and I’m not writing this article to condemn Belmont for them. I’m sure this is part of a greater transition that has students’ best interests at heart.
But, in whatever that transition looks like, I want to make sure that Belmont is aware of how important easy access to free on-campus counseling is.
I certainly wouldn’t have sought the help I needed if it had meant finding a counselor off campus and paying for treatment. The fact that I had near-immediate access to professionals on campus who were skilled with CBT and were covered by my tuition made the difference.
Not only that, but they were able to see me very soon after I filled out their intake form. I fear what could’ve happened had I needed to wait another week to get help. From what the Vision article said, it sounded like Counseling Services was already having a hard time accommodating for everyone in a timely manner prior to these cuts. That extra time can be life threatening for some students.
And Counseling Services doesn’t only serve students with circumstances as intense as mine. They’re great for students who are dealing with stress from courses, who are homesick, who are going through a rough breakup or who need somebody unbiased to help them work through whatever it is they are facing.
None of these reasons is more important than any other, but their being attended to is entirely dependent on there being an effective infrastructure within Counseling Services. This requires adequate funding and staffing, and this does not appear to be the situation right now.
In closing, I urge Belmont to make Counseling Services a priority. It’s too important a resource to too many students for it to be overlooked or lost.
Belmont hires 3 counselors, according to Provost Dr. Thomas Burns. Clickhere for the full story update.