In a 2007 survey by the Health Education Outreach center, 48 percent of Pomona College students reported feeling “hopeless,” 90 percent felt “overwhelmed,” 86 percent felt “exhausted,” 72 percent felt “very lonely,” 70 percent felt “very sad,” 53 percent experienced “overwhelming anxiety,” and 33 percent reported being “so depressed it is hard to function.” All of the figures above are higher than the still unacceptably high national averages for undergraduate students.
My suggestions in this op-ed are not enough to fully address mental illness at the Claremont Colleges, even if they were all to be implemented fully. Students have to initiate the treatment process by scheduling and attending a group meeting or counseling appointment. That can be very challenging for individuals with severe depression or attention-deficit disorder and may even worsen symptoms already present.
The Claremont Colleges as a whole need more accessible counseling options for students. For example, Monsour Center offers short-term counseling, which benefits students in acute distress, but students with long-term or chronic conditions have to fend for themselves off campus. Depending on a counselor’s insurance policies, specialty area, and proximity to campus, students may end up shelling out hundreds of dollars in Zipcar fees or paying out-of-pocket if the provider does not accept health insurance.
Studies estimate that up to 20 percent of college students experience eating disorders, which are among the deadliest and most intractable mental illnesses on our campus. We ought to consider the possibility of hiring an equivalent of Pomona’s Drugs and Alcohol counselor, Jasa Cocke, for students with eating disorders.
A more effective on-campus safety net would also include structured peer support groups facilitated by a graduate student or an accessible faculty member. One model to follow for a support group for mental-health concerns might be that of the Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship, which holds Bible study sessions by residence hall each week.
Peer support groups raise difficult questions about confidentiality at a campus as small as ours, and we need to proceed with care because mental illness and psychological distress can be very personal and impactful. That’s another reason why I think we could additionally benefit from establishing a space for students, staff, and faculty to collaborate, research, and advocate best practices for promoting mental health on college campuses, starting with our own.