When Friends Fill in the Mental Health Gap

The guy who’s the life of the party at the Tombs. A friend who seems a little down lately. That woman at the coffee shop who is keeping to herself. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on race, age, gender or sexual orientation. It affects all of our lives in one way or another. This is the story of my ongoing struggle with mental health and my journey to seek help and find a sense of peace on this campus.

In the fall of my sophomore year, after my roommate and I had yet another fight, we stayed up talking until 4 a.m., sitting on the futon in our Village B apartment. We agreed that what was bothering me was bigger than anything he or I could fix. I had to seek help of some kind. The next day I told my family everything that happened. After getting over the initial shock of “my son/brother is going to therapy,” that people frequently face, they were very supportive of me.

I remember the day of my first Counseling and Psychiatric Services appointment, I walked around the corner behind Darnall to check to make sure no one saw me. I was embarrassed, and, as I sat in the waiting room filling out forms, I looked to see if I recognized anyone who might spread my whereabouts to my friends. The session was something I expected a first therapy hour at a major university would be. “Are you stressed out by school work? Do you drink too much? Do you miss home?” Nothing that really got at the core issues that drove me there, but it was a start.

Following my second session, my therapist referred me to a new doctor. I made my first appointment for right after the winter break — three months after I first called CAPS back in October. If I required more counseling after a semester of paid sessions with this doctor, I would have to look outside of CAPS for a different therapist because Georgetown’s therapy services were operating at capacity.

I shared my story again: feelings of inadequacy, feeling like people don’t ever really want to be my friend, times that it all crashed down on me and I felt like I wanted to curl up and not do anything and I related it all to relationships and situations from my childhood. Thankfully, I was able to afford this financially. My therapist listened, was compassionate and tried to give me potential solutions and new ways of thinking.

Despite feeling good about my sessions, I wasn’t really “improving.” I still fought with my roommate and my other friends. After one particularly bad episode, my roommate put his foot down and insisted that he come to my next CAPS session. That appointment was the turning point for me. Seeing my roommate engaged in my mental health and well-being gave me confidence in him and my other friends. I started to tell other people about my struggles and how my negative thought patterns affect my behavior. Everyone was understanding and offered to help. My family and my faith were also there to guide me to believing more in myself and in all of my personal accomplishments. When I went abroad to Italy last year, I opened up to my new peers, thinking I would need their help at some point during the semester — and I was so fortunate to have them on my side when things got difficult.

For every story like mine, where CAPS was able to provide support, there are countless stories of others who suffer from their own mental illnesses and cannot find help or a person who is there to listen when they turn to this university’s services. I have a friend who was told by a CAPS counselor that all of his problems were his fault and that he needs to just “get over it.” Another friend made a strong effort to seek help, but she was lost in the shuffle of patients and found it difficult to find an appointment. Most alarmingly, a third friend called on behalf of his friend who was struggling and having a very difficult time emotionally. Even after multiple attempts and leaving a number of messages, he never received a call back and was forced to find assistance elsewhere.As the administration works to fix the system, we need to be women and men for each other. Check on your friends. Talk to that person who always looks like they’re alone. Be honest with yourself and your friends. Reach out to someone if you are in trouble. It’s time for us to act.

Embrace the Jesuit value of cura personalis and care for the whole person. Together, if we all do our part, we can come closer to reducing the stigma of mental illnesses and making this campus a better, safer and healthier place for all Hoyas.

 

Stephen Cacace is a senior in the McDonough School of Business.  

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