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The Scarlet & Black

Down the rabbit hole: Let’s talk about getting help

Dear Reader,

I bet you’re wondering what to do if you suspect that you or a loved one is taking a journey through Wonderland. This is a pretty common question, especially given the extremely high prevalence of mental health problems on college campuses and throughout the country (and world, for that matter). A lot of people will experience mental health problems in their lives and even more will be directly affected by the struggles of a loved one. Mental health problems create a ripple effect—when one person suffers, they lean on their friends and family, who then lean on someone else, and so on and so forth. Mental health issues effect entire communities, not just the individual that is directly experiencing them. So, what the hell do we do about it? The not-so-simple but consistently valid answer is to ask for help.

Asking for help is one of the best things that anyone suffering from mental health issues, or the people who make up their support system, can do. Of course, it’s not as simple as just finding a random person on the street and saying, “Please help me!” You need to find an appropriate mental health professional, which can be pretty difficult in a rural area such as Grinnell. Then you have to be able to get an appointment, which can be next to impossible in some places because the demand for mental health services is so high and the supply of appropriate providers is so low. Finally, once you’ve gotten an appointment with someone, and hopefully they’re someone you work well with and that will actually take the time to understand and respect what you’re going through, you have to figure out how to pay for the services! Getting help is by no means a simple process, but it is a necessity if you’re to have any chance of getting better. You can’t journey through Wonderland alone and you shouldn’t have to—you deserve a guide, someone to help you along the way.

So, what does this mean for you, Grinnellians? The general attitude on campus is that we lack adequate services, that we don’t have enough of them and that they aren’t high quality. Sure, we don’t have enough therapists and we definitely need more psychiatrists, but there is help out there. While we may not have enough resources and there are people who have been displeased with the resources we do have, it should never deter you from asking for help. The thing is, people do care about you—there are dozens of caring professionals at the College and in the wider community who are committed to giving you the best care that they possibly can. They are invested in your wellbeing, and while they are extremely overworked, they will do their utmost to make sure you get the care you need.

“But Maddie, I’ve heard bad things about SHACS and all of the resources in town!” Well, dear Reader, don’t you think that people tend to talk more about negative experiences than about positive? If one or two people have an experience they are not happy with, their stories are much more likely to spread than the stories of the dozens of others who have had extremely positive experiences. This is not to say that every resource out there is perfect. Therapists and doctors are humans too and do make mistakes, but they are trying to help you! Part of what contributes to negative experiences with a provider is a patient who is not in a state to advocate for their own care, which is the case for many individuals in a state of distress caused by mental health issues. Additionally, many college students have never had to be their own advocate in the medical system before and simply do not know how. If this is you, ask for help! Talk to friends, talk to SHACS, talk to family (if you feel comfortable), and ask for someone to help you advocate for the best care possible.

Additionally, and specifically for Grinnellians, even if you have been told and believe that the care provided by SHACS is subpar and that they are overbooked and overworked, go anyway. SHACS is made up of a team of hardworking individuals who do really care about your wellbeing. And yes, they are overworked, but there are more appointments available than most people think! It’s worth it to give it a try and schedule an appointment even if you can’t get in right away and you aren’t convinced that it’s going to be helpful. Go because it will show the powers that be that there is a demand for mental health services on our campus, that we demand the appropriate resources.

So, dear Reader, go forth and reach out for help if you or a friend need it. Help is out there and you are not alone. Show the world that we need resources by asking for them, give yourself your best chance by reaching out and don’t ever give up on trying to get better. You do not have to—and should not have to—venture through Wonderland alone. I am journeying with you and so are millions of people worldwide. Getting help is not easy, but at the end of the day you have to try; you deserve any help that you need.

I welcome your feedback! Please feel free to send your questions, comments, or concerns to or if you prefer to remain anonymous, to my campus box, #4255.

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  • M

    Martin Campbell '14Apr 18, 2015 at 12:10 am

    Current students: please be reassured that you are most definitely not alone. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, there are literally hundreds of other Grinnell students experiencing mental health issues. No one should have to suffer in silence and struggle with any of these issues on their own; you’re all in this together and you deserve the best care Grinnell can provide.

    Nonetheless, keep in mind: if you don’t ask for help, the school can’t help you! In order to receive the care you deserve, you absolutely need to take an active role in your treatment (trust me: I speak from experience).

    Two years ago the Poweshiek County Mental Health Center in town abruptly closed due to circumstances outside the college’s control. It was a difficult time, but I’m sure things have improved since then. Does Active Minds have any support groups? I hope they still have a strong presence on campus—I know I would have appreciated that sort of thing.

  • W

    William CrosbyApr 5, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Resources for the mental health of students (and staff) is important. I am not a student (I live in town), but I read the S&B and remember seeing a quote a few issues back from a GC administrator that “we are an educational, not a mental health institution.” (Paraphrase from my memory.) Yet, this is a residential college, which means that part of the education is in the interactions between its residents. This also can mean extra stress even beyond that from the classroom.

    To me, it seems that the college needs to make mental health a major component of its educational mission and go beyond having a few mental health professionals available. For example, students also need training or assistance in helping each other. I would advocate having a consistent, regular series of workshops available every semester to deal with various individual and social mental health issues. This would provide an additional option and more resources for those who want more information on mental health issues, but who don’t want to take psych courses.