Section: Opinion

The College needs to reform its healthcare practices

As students, we must hold Kenyon accountable when it comes to its health and counseling services. Knox Public Health (KPH) is responsible for serving a massive population. When Kenyon’s support fails students, those privileged with insurance may turn towards public health alternatives; however, as mostly transplants to Gambier, it is not our place to criticize what help we receive from KPH. Furthermore, for students without insurance, outsourcing care is not an option. Considering the numerous medical disparities existing in modern America, Kenyon must prioritize on-campus healthcare.

To clarify, I want to acknowledge that what I’ll be discussing is a small piece of a much larger problem (one which I’m not attempting to solve). This is written from my perspective as a white, insured female student — I cannot begin to imagine how difficult others’ experiences are when compounded by medical trauma or historical abuse by the healthcare system. This op-ed is exclusively focused on the healthcare offered by Kenyon on campus. 

Over the course of four years, I’ve watched as Kenyon’s healthcare fails to meet students’ needs. It’s reached a point where the school’s health services are joked about (and it doesn’t help that it’s called the Cox Center…). In all seriousness, I get horribly frustrated after all of these years watching my friends and peers struggle. At this point, mental health issues like anxiety and depression are standard among college students. Yet, at Kenyon, we still have a health center ill-equipped to support our basic needs. I’ve had friends denied counseling for their eating disorders because “no one on staff was qualified to handle the topic;” I’ve had friends dropped by counselors without any warning or notification; I’ve had friends receive the same mindfulness worksheet twice because the counselor didn’t have another strategy to help. While these examples exclusively point to limited mental health resources, this is a broader problem evident across a variety of services the Health Center provides.

I’d guess that most students have an anecdote about themselves or a friend being left unsupported by the counseling center. For many, depression can manifest as feeling helpless and hopeless. It’s not very affirming for that hopelessness to be met with a flawed support system. All I can wonder is if Kenyon has any clue just how much they’re disappointing people, and in the case they do know, what their plan is to change it. I’ve been here for some time now and each year, new classes of students are ushered in with the false promise of being supported medically. 

Beyond its failure to meet basic needs, the Cox Center actively puts students at risk, particularly in the way it monitors medication. Depression, anxiety and other mental disorders can emerge at any age. At Kenyon, students seeking psychological treatment for the first time likely see the health center as their best option. Until recently, mental health struggles were routinely met with a harsh stigma, creating a barrier for students seeking help for the first time. Even today, it requires vulnerability, self-awareness and strength to vocalize these struggles. We need to hold Kenyon accountable and make sure we get the support for which we advocate. 

Even when Kenyon students first seek treatment, the Cox Center has a flawed approach. For first-time patients, the counseling center offers a short consultation session before scheduling “regular” appointments. To my knowledge, the typical appointment frequency is once every week or two. In the case medication is suggested, 15-minute psychiatric appointments can be scheduled every six weeks to monitor a drug’s effects. While Kenyon does technically have a psychiatrist on staff, they are rarely on campus and conduct their appointments remotely. Due to the campus psychiatrist’s volume of patients and limited role at the Cox Center, they often must prescribe students high-dose medications with minimal regulation. 

This decision is plain stupid: In the cases of many antidepressants, adverse reactions to the drug will likely appear in the first two weeks of taking it. There is this notion that patients must first “feel worse before feeling better,” particularly in this time frame; in extreme cases, “feeling worse” can be fatal. According to many studies, antidepressants have been found to increase the risk of suicidality in those under the age of 24. This means that college students are especially at risk of experiencing serious side effects when taking these medications. When the health center writes prescriptions but fails to provide proper oversight, they leave students on their own to survey whether or not the drug is working. Furthermore, in the case that a student experiences negative side effects, they aren’t provided the knowledge to recognize them. These practices are irresponsible and harmful. If the Health Center is truly interested in offering psychiatric support, they need to be comprehensive in their care across all areas. Their attempt at healthcare is offensive at this point.

 

Ellen Burbank ’22 is a sociology major from Southport, Conn. She can be reached at burbank1@kenyon.edu.

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