Speak Your Mind: Students tell their experiences seeking therapy and medication

Kathryn Augustine and Haley Fuller

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Kathryn Augustine.

HALEY FULLER: And I’m Haley Fuller. Welcome to Speak Your Mind, a weekly podcast dedicated to discussing mental health and self-care on Northwestern’s campus. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation about mental health that goes in-depth about what students are really experiencing and try to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health. As a content note, this episode has mentions of mental health disorders and suicide.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: This week, we talked to students about their experiences seeking help, from short-term therapy to long-term care and medication. Some, like Camille Guzman, a McCormick junior, didn’t have a hard time getting help. Instead, the difficult part was telling the people closest to her.

CAMILLE GUZMAN: So at the beginning of last year, during Wildcat Welcome, I went to CAPS and made an appointment because I’d never tried out therapy, and so I wanted to find out how to do that and who I could go to. So, I did that.

As you know, CAPS gets a really bad rep, but I think I was really fortunate in that I was able to get an appointment as soon as possible. Actually, when I first called and tried to make an appointment, they said that there was a two-week wait or something, which is very common. People always complain about that. But I think I just lied and I said I can’t do those days, whatever, whatever. So, they were like okay, we can see you tomorrow. So, I was able to see someone, and then I think within the next week I had my first appointment with my therapist. And it’s been over a year, and I’ve seen her ever since, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: Camille had a fairly easy time opening up about her mental health to her friends. But she found it harder to talk to her parents about what she was going through.

CAMILLE GUZMAN: When I started seeing my therapist, it took me awhile to even start talking about it to either of my parents because it just went on my insurance. The main thing was I just didn’t want to worry them because I know that my mom’s always worried about me being stressed in general and missing me, so the thought of her knowing that I wasn’t doing well in that sense worried me. Because I knew it would be on her mind all the time.

I didn’t have to tell them, but then once I started going more often and things would get bad sometimes and then it was helping, I would talk to my mom about it. And then over the summer, when I really, really wanted to get medication, that’s when I started talking to my mom more about it, but not the rest of my family that much.

CAMILLE GUZMAN: When I first sought out a psychiatrist and getting medication I had no idea what that entailed, and one of my best friends here, who also has almost the same experience as me, she was already on medication. So, I reached out to her and I also reached out to someone else at this school who I don’t even know. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to her in person, but I just follow her on Twitter and she’s very vocal about her mental health issues as well and I knew that she was on medication. So, I reached out to her to see what I could do.

I think a lot of people, at least in this community, know that it’s very common for certain medications to not work the first time or go through tons of medications before you find the one that works for you. And I started two different ones fo r anxiety and depression separately, and fortunately they worked really well so I haven’t had to try a different one. So, overall it’s been a really good experience.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: These immediate connections aren’t the only ways she gets support. The prevalence of mental health disorders on Northwestern’s campus leads to less stigma.

CAMILLE GUZMAN: In high school, my mental health issues weren’t as bad so I didn’t feel the need to be vocal. And so I don’t know if I had been vocal about it, other people would’ve as well, at least my friends. But I think it’s more stigmatized in my home. At least here it’s much more common and also we were in high school so it wasn’t as stressful. And so, a lot of people who already have it before they come to Northwestern, things will get a lot worse and because it’s so well known I think it’s not as stigmatized here.

HALEY FULLER: Sophomore Jill Radley also had a positive experience seeking help. However, after having dealt with anxiety for several years, she already knew her family and friends were in her corner.

JILL RADLEY: My friends from home knew I was having a really hard time last year. And then my friends here after I became a lot closer with them. We talked about it a lot. And I’m pretty vocal about my experience. My high school is really small. So, I met with a guidance counselor there very frequently, whenever I needed it, and there would be times when I wouldn’t be with them for a while, but like, it was always an option. And my friends at school all knew, we’re very in tune with that part of my life. We kind of joke because like half of us have mental health disorders and it’s a very comforting feeling to be able to talk about it with someone who kind of gets it.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: But even though people are more open with their mental health issues at Northwestern, Jill noted that it can also enable people’s diagnosed illnesses to be taken less seriously.

JILL RADLEY: I definitely think here at Northwestern, a lot of kids have struggled with mental health. But that can make it a different sort of vibe where it’s not as much like acknowledging how difficult it is to struggle with mental health. Because everyone struggles. But that’s also part of the period of our lives we’re in.

It’s hard to differentiate that because you don’t want to diminish anyone’s experience. But it definitely feels sort of underappreciated, like what it means to have an anxiety or a mental health disorder versus just a tough time. Both are difficult in their own ways. But I’ve definitely seen that here.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: With an increased number of students feeling comfortable reaching out for help, getting an appointment at CAPS is often difficult.

JILL RADLEY: I think a little part of me was hesitant to talk to CAPS because when I saw CAPS, it was right after the student committed suicide in the dorms. And so I think they were very nervous and sort of on high alert when students were approaching them. Or I might have just made that up in my head. But, I didn’t want it to become an ordeal that I was going there because I’ve seen someone for my mental health before. I’ve had anxiety for my whole life, I’ve known I’ve had anxiety since I was like 15. So, I didn’t want that sort of extra attention at the time. And so more of it, I think was on my part being anxious about opening up to someone affiliated with the university.

So freshman fall, at the end of fall quarter, I reached out to CAPS but I knew they had a reputation of not having space to meet students. So, I had my phone consultation. And they basically asked me a series of standard questions like, ‘what has caused your anxiety?’ ‘have you been having panic attacks?’ etc. And then they were like, ‘have you considered self harm?’ And I kind of felt like that question was the one that was going to determine whether I got seen or not. So, basically I got in for one initial meeting and knew that there wasn’t really going to be space for me to see someone regularly. And I knew at that point that’s what I needed. So they gave me referrals to therapists in Evanston who would take my insurance, which was really helpful. And I asked for that because they acknowledged that, yes, I wouldn’t be able to be seen, but they weren’t shooing me away. So, I then waited a while. And now I see someone in Evanston. It’s really close by and it takes my insurance, but it does suck that I pay like $20 every time I go.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: Although she has a supportive family, Jill wanted to take steps to direct her own mental health journey.

JILL RADLEY: My parents have always been super supportive and my brother has anxiety too. My mom does. And they just want to help in any way they can. And so I know that’s always there but I don’t necessarily always feel like I need to call my mom when I’m having a panic attack anymore. But yeah, their responses have been really supportive.

My parents are relatively aware, but I also have been more independent about seeking help. Just because I feel like I’m more of an adult now and like I pay for my own therapy, and stuff like that, but they would definitely be willing to be more involved.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: While therapy is no longer considered taboo, taking medication still faces considerable stigma.

JILL RADLEY: I think taking medication is a little bit stigmatizing. Like I take Zoloft. And I don’t think even I really understood what medication for mental health does until I was like old enough to want to understand the science of it. And I know I have friends whose family members are against medicating for mental health. More so from home than here. And my friends don’t have that perspective. I’ve watched a couple of my close friends go through things where they should be seeing someone. I’m not a doctor so I can’t say they should be medicated, but knowing that their families are against that, because they think it does something to your body or it’s unnatural. Just different values, I guess. But that can be stigmatizing. I wish people understood that it’s kind of equivalent to if you have type one diabetes, and you have to inject yourself with insulin. The chemicals don’t work normally so it’s something that needs to be medicated. And I don’t think a lot of people get that. I think it can be stigmatized.

HALEY FULLER: While Camille and Jill had easy times getting the help they needed, some aren’t as fortunate. McCormick junior Greta, a student in the Manufacturing and Design Engineering program, didn’t have the same experience. We didn’t include her name because not all of her family members know she is seeking treatment. Between finances and her family situation, Greta ran into several roadblocks.

GRETA: So last winter, I was taking three very, very challenging classes. I had just switched into MaDE and I was just having a really tough time adjusting. And at the end of the quarter, my boyfriend, like long-term boyfriend, broke up with me. And so everything kind of just started to get very overwhelming all at the same time. So, I reached out to Mona Dugo.

HALEY FULLER: Mona Dugo is the senior associate dean of students in the Student Assistance and Support Services office. Greta knew Dugo after they talked during Greta’s freshman year about a separate situation with her mom’s mental health issues. At the time, Dugo suggested that she go to therapy, but she passed off the opportunity. This changed last winter.

GRETA: Last year when I actually felt like, ‘okay, this is an actual problem that I can’t kind of like, get through on my own and can’t deal with just by talking to my friends or talking to my mom about it,’ I knew that I needed to reach out to someone. Once I reached out to her there was a lot of hoops to jump through. I met with her a few times. We talked about possible options and then she recommended that I speak to someone at CAPS. So then I spoke to someone at CAPS, and basically had to rehash my whole fiasco, which was kind of frustrating just because I had already told her and I had to tell a new person, and then the person at CAPS was not super helpful.

HALEY FULLER: Greta struggled with getting the help she needed because her family situation held her back. She was caught in a bureaucratic web.

GRETA: So, I would meet with Dean Dugo a few times over the course of a week or two weeks. And then after meeting with her a few times, then I met with the person at CAPS. And then I was supposed to go back to CAPS, but then there was just all this administrative stuff and the people at CAPS were talking to Dean Dugo who was also talking to this therapist. So, there were just a bunch of adults kind of discussing my situation without consulting me about it. So, yeah, that was kind of a lot.

GRETA: I’m pretty much a very private person. And I have a few really good friends that I do share that information with. So during that time, people close to me knew that I was struggling but didn’t necessarily know that I had reached out to anyone for actual help. And not just wanting to talk to my friends kind of thing.

It’s not that my friends would have made the situation uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have felt judged or anything. But, I think the way that I was raised and the way that my family does approach things like mental health or having emotional trauma or whatever, all that stuff just kind of made me not want to share that information anyways. It’s not like a ‘Oh, I feel like I can’t or like I’m judged’ It’s just something that I would rather deal with it by myself. My family does not know. My mom knows just because she’s more open to the idea. But my siblings, my dad, do not know that I went through the whole process. I have two brothers and a sister and I think my sister would be more supportive. But I know my dad would not. My dad doesn’t believe in mental health being an actual problem or something that actually affects people. So, I would never tell him, I might tell my sister but again, we were all kind of raised the same way to have that belief that it’s not the biggest issue.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: Dugo secured funding for Greta’s therapy from Northwestern, but the funding source limited her therapist options and the amount of sessions she could go to. In total, she only saw her therapist eight times. From the time she first sought help to the time she saw her therapist, months had passed.

GRETA: I didn’t have the greatest experience with this therapist. I think maybe if it had been someone that I personally picked, yeah, maybe it would have been better. But after the eight sessions ended, I also wasn’t interested in continuing therapy or continuing to see that specific therapist, especially because I was going to be at home for the summer and would not have been able to balance that and work and living at home.

KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: Since last year, Greta has had the time to reflect on her experience searching for and receiving help.

GRETA: I feel like I definitely needed to speak to someone during that period of my life, but since then things have kind of smoothed over a little bit, so it’s not as pressing of a need. But of course, I would like the option to be able to see someone if I needed to, but after how difficult and frustrating and drawn out the whole process was, it’s almost not worth the trouble at this point.

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KATHRYN AUGUSTINE: That’s all we have today for Speak Your Mind. See you next Friday for another episode.

HALEY FULLER: This episode was reported and produced by me, Haley Fuller and Kathryn Augustine. It was edited by Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava. The editor in chief of The Daily Northwestern is Troy Closson.

Email: [email protected], [email protected]
Twitter: @haley_fuller_

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