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Friday, October 07, 2022
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

Band-Aid solutions

Short-term counseling is not the answer

Content warning: This article contains sensitive information about self-harm and suicidal ideation. If you are in crisis, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or dialing 988. 

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I had skipped a week of classes before I finally decided to call.

Rotting in bed, eyes numbly fixed on my phone screen, I tried not to think about the situation I was in. It was the third week of school — my first year on campus — and I couldn’t even make it to my 4 p.m. class.

After typing the number for UB Counseling Services, I choked down my anxiety as I held the phone to my ear and waited.

I’ve always felt like I needed help.

As a Chinese-American, mental health is hush-hush and rarely spoken about. Growing up, my impression of mental health was always black and white — people were either “crazy,” or they weren’t, and I certainly wasn’t “crazy.” With no context for the way I was feeling, I assumed everyone felt the bone-deep numbness I did and tried to push it aside. 

Things got worse after coming to the U.S., when I moved in with my grandmother. Although my eyes were opened to the reality of mental health struggles, being separated from my family and the language barrier between me and my grandmother meant that I felt very alone. Without the rigidity of living with my parents, years of pent-up emotions reared its ugly head. I learned what it felt like to have blood running down my arm, and I wondered what it would feel like to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and not have to worry about anything anymore.

I couldn’t afford counseling on my own, and I’d really have a problem on my hands if it showed up on my family’s insurance plan. Access to mental health resources is a privilege many can’t access, especially for low income families and immigrants. I’d struggle through everything if it meant that I didn’t have to deal with the inevitable argument about how my struggles were unimportant because I didn’t have to work or pay taxes.

I reminded myself it was important to be grateful for my university’s resources as I waited for my “needs assessment appointment,” yet it was almost impossible to ignore my worry.

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UB Counseling Services’ website states that the needs assessment appointment is used to discuss concerns with a counselor, after which they will “recommend appropriate services.” This includes self-help resources, educational workshops, mental health counseling and referrals to on- and off-campus help.

I hoped the counselor would deem me worthy of mental health counseling. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to help myself with meditation on Headspace, an option on the self-help resources page.

When Counseling Services describes themselves as “short-term on campus mental health support,” they really mean it. While I was able to receive counseling relatively quickly, I went for no more than four sessions before giving up. The majority of students stop attending after two to six sessions, according to a 2021-22 student satisfaction survey obtained by The Spectrum through a Freedom of Information Law request.

My counselor’s words felt more like surface-level comforts rather than the in-depth interaction I was expecting. At the end of each session, I had the opportunity to schedule the next one. But I was always asked if I was sure I needed another, which only increased my doubt on whether or not I really needed help with my problems.

Not only that, but the struggles I went through to get a counselor in the first place — pushing through my fear of phone calls, going through the needs assessment appointment — felt like a waste of time. 

Talking to my counselor helped slightly, but felt like a Band-Aid solution to a gaping wound.

With a maximum of 10 sessions allowed a year, I felt as if I had to be very careful when booking appointments. Should I schedule an appointment two weeks from now, or save it for when I really need help? What if I struggle and have to wait a few weeks to book a session? 

The way the system is set up makes it very difficult for students to get the support we need. Short-term counseling only serves to slap a temporary Band-Aid on an issue that deserves more.

Jasmin Yeung is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at jasmin.yeung@ubspectrum.com

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