For junior Nan Ash, the condition of the Student Disability Services (SDS) was a deal breaker when deciding what college she was going to.
Ash came to DePauw University with PTSD in partial remission, depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and ADHD therefore she needed to find a place where SDS would help her.
DePauw was the only place Ash met with someone who was trained to work with people who had disabilities. “My mom went here and she wanted me to go here since before I was born, but if they didn’t have a good student disabilities services then that wasn’t going to happen,” Ash said.
The Student Disability Services works with individual students who have diagnosed disabilities to make sure they have equal access to the campus, in whatever shape or form that may be.
“Our role is to look at the students diagnosed disabilities, what are their limitations in major life activities that have arisen from that disability, and what accommodations are reasonable for us then to put into place to level that playing field for the student,” Director of SDS Meggan Johnston said.
However, SDS is not the only resource for students with mental illnesses to count on. The Counseling Services at the Wellness Center are also an important resource that DePauw provides.
Yet students such as Ash have had multiple issues ranging from scheduling, prescription, and confidentiality with the Counseling Services.
Ash said that she is not a huge fan of the Counseling Services and she has had specific issues with the psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Snelson. “There was some stuff that I disclosed to the therapist Julie D’Argent and she asked me if I wanted her to put this as private in my file so that Dr. Snelson wouldn’t bring it up,” Ash said, “and then Snelson brought it up the next time I met with him and I literally almost threw up in his office.”
Snelson is also “. . . very hard to get ahold of and only comes once a month”, said Ash. Since he’s the only psychiatrist that comes to DePauw, and only psychiatrists can prescribe the medicines she needs, it leaves Ash with limited options.
“Actually two years ago I was having so much trouble with medicine management I actually went to San Diego over the summer and I ended up paying him $200 a month for a doctor there to write and send me prescriptions,” Ash said. However, she still had to see Snelson for other prescriptions, but Ash said Snelson is just there to write prescriptions and doesn’t make adjustments to prescriptions.
Having limited time with the psychiatrist led to complications during Ash’s first year at DePauw. “Freshman year I was just on a ton of medicine and they were all just, like, counteracting each other and I was having super bad hyper-somnia and really really bad night sweats,” said Ash. Because she didn’t have a psychiatrist here more often nor a car to drive to Indianapolis, Ash struggled with the symptoms of medicines counteracting each other and almost left DePauw for a semester.
In the end, Ash is glad she stayed, but now worries about all the changes that have been made to SDS with Pam Roberts leaving, Julianne Miranda temporarily taking her place, and now Meggan Johnston, who was previously head of Academic Life, taking on the position. “It’s worrisome that they are just bopping different people in and out,” Ash said.
Student Body President, Claire Halffield, said that a way to help provide better service for students who require the Counseling Services would be to raise the fee. “One thing that I have thought about from student perspective is to raise the Wellness fee or health fee just even a few dollars per student, and honestly I think that could hire an entire other counsellor for a year,” said Halffield.
The attendance policy and how to include mental health problems into syllabi is also something Halffield is looking into. “I know that every professor puts the disability services accommodations snippet in their syllabus, but they don’t make sure to include that students know that can include mental health problems,” Halffield said.
Halffield believes the discrepancy between the consequences professors decide for absences creates a problem for all students, but especially for students with mental illnesses. “I always see the attendance policy as a problem mostly for people who have mental health disorders because sometimes it would be more detrimental for someone to go to a class,” said Halffield.
While the rights each student receives is based off of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation, the accommodations the student receives are on a case by case basis. However, the accommodations any student receives cannot fundamentally alter the essential functions of a professor’s course.
For example, if a student were to miss class because of their anxiety or depression, their absence would be counted if a professor believed missing class alters the essential functions of their course. Johnston suggests students be upfront with their professors and let them know what is happening, and SDS can mediate conversation.
“As SDS director, I will have a better understanding of how to apply the law and what the extent of the student’s disability is, but at the end of day I will say we defer to the faculty member to make final decisions,” said Johnston.
SDS is working on developing opportunities for faculty to engage in conversations related to disabilities so they can be better educated when a student comes to them for help or understanding. Right now, Johnston is still working on how SDS will start and mediate these conversations, which might start at DePauw Dialogue, but Johnston hopes go far beyond a day.
“I know we’re having a lot of rich conversations related to identity and campus climate at DePauw, and I would love to see the topic of disability infused much more significantly in those conversations,” Johnston said.
Sophomore Bronson Roseboro said that both Disability Services and Counseling Services help students but thinks there are people who don’t necessarily seek out the help they need, while other students may go, but still not get the help they need. “I think it’s an important service to have but at the same time it’s a step in the right direction as oppose to the end all be all solution,” Roseboro said.
Raising awareness for mental illness will also help destigmatize mental illness on DePauw’s campus. “There are so many students who suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder I think that many people do feel like they can’t speak about it,” Halffield said, “but I also think that people don’t realize how many of their peers are suffering from the same issues.”
Destigmatizing mental illnesses also involves changing DePauw’s culture that admires students who sleep for four hours, said Halffield, “One of the biggest mental health stigmas is that people think they have to be over involved to be a good DePauw student.”
Students wish that people would be more sensitive to the ways that mental illness affects daily lives. “If I had a chronic disease and I was like hey I couldn’t get out of bed because it hurt me to move the that would be taken more seriously then when I say hey I couldn’t get out of bed because my brain was too loud,” said a junior, Courtney Feiler. “People don’t understand that I didn’t do my homework because I didn’t do it yesterday and that made me anxious about doing it today.”
Counseling Services was not available for comment due to the director, Julie D’Argent being on maternity leave.