A follow up on mental health at Rensselaer

In light of my most recent editorial, I was able to meet with Medical Director of the Student Health Center Leslie Stephen Lawrence, MD. I would like to encourage students who didn’t read my previous piece to do so at http://poly.rpi.edu/s/MentalHealth/. I was able to receive some answers for what happened during my struggle with mental health at RPI, and I couldn’t be more thankful to Dr. Lawrence for that.

Dr. Lawrence started our meeting by stating that it seemed like my issue with the counseling services at RPI had more to do with accessibility rather than the quality of care, and frankly I couldn’t agree more. I never received any care from the counselors employed by RPI, so it is certainly not my place to comment on the qualifications of the counseling center. Additionally, Dr. Lawrence pointed out that I was mistaken in believing that there was an online portal for scheduling in the health center; in his words, “The Counseling Services area of the SHC has never had and will never have an online scheduling portal.”

Prior to being admitted to the hospital, I had tried several times to follow a link that I believed would lead to a scheduling portal, and each time I attempted to follow the link I received an error. When I was admitted into the crisis unit, I was told that another student admitted prior to myself had reported something similar, but I was never able to get the student’s name to corroborate. Furthermore, I was told upon the initiation of my leave of absence that they had no report of the portal going down, but I assume this was some form of miscommunication. I apologize for the misinformation, but I would like to assure anyone reading this that I reported my experiences to the best of my ability, given the information I had been provided.

After I had published my editorial, I had many students reach out to me and tell me that they had struggled with the resources on campus for mental health; people described to my circumstances under which they had received care, but not in ways that were effective in improving their quality of life. I had people tell me that they hadn’t been able to schedule appointments in the counseling center for nearly a month, and people who continued to struggle because they weren’t able to receive appointments frequently enough. As an aside, I would like to thank anyone that reached out to me, and I couldn’t be happier that my editorial was able to resonate.

I presented what people had told me to Dr. Lawrence, and he was understanding. However, he did offer the data for the quality assurance testing that the counseling center does, and the responses on the survey were overwhelmingly positive. By this, I mean that the counseling center has reported more than 90 percent satisfaction nearly every semester for the last five years. Dr. Lawrence admitted that the care would “never be perfect,” but it’s hard for me to say that these satisfaction rates are anything to scoff at.

For me, the polarity of the responses I have received is kind of baffling. However, I don’t believe that Dr. Lawrence is lying to me when he said that, to the best of their ability, the counseling center is helping students in a big way. I have students with personal anecdotes of being extremely dissatisfied, but I have self-reported evidence from students that states that by-and-large students leave these appointments with healthy coping mechanisms for their personal issues.

Dr. Lawrence was willing to admit that the counseling center had work to do in terms of making appointments more easily available to students. He stated that the typical student faces a “one to two week waiting period,” but that the counseling center had already planned on hiring an additional counselor for the fall semester of 2016. In response to the personal anecdote given to me by a student that claimed they had faced a month-long waiting period, Dr. Lawrence was hesitant to believe that anyone had ever waited a month for an appointment. Two weeks, maybe, but not a month. It’s anecdotal, so I have no way to verify who is right.

I came out of the meeting with the feeling that the counseling center is doing what they believe is right, but I don’t necessarily have any answers for my own story. Currently, I’m still not sure why I was told I could return, only to be denied reentry. I’m still not sure why the testimony of my therapist was refused. I’m still not sure why it was so difficult for me to get back into a school that I chose for my own health.

What I am sure of is that the counseling center at RPI is doing what they believe is correct treatment, and the students answering their surveys have gotten something out of their treatment. Treatment is not perfect, but I expect that by adding an additional counselor, the counseling center will decrease the waiting period and improve the state of mental health on campus. I would like to thank Dr. Lawrence for his time, and the work he has done with students.