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This viral letter is a reminder of how important college mental health services are

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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After the death of a student at a Utah university, a student penned an open letter to administrators advocating for more help.

Brigham Young University in Provo is ringed by a network of Utah’s famous mountains. You can see them, the peaks of Timpanogus or Y mountains, from the windows of campus accommodation. When classes start in September the mountains are green and florid, but in December they are snow-capped and still.

For the past week, Brigham Young University (BYU) has been processing a series of tragic events. On 3 December a 19-year-old female student attempted suicide on the college campus. She died in hospital two days after the incident, leaving faculty and student body alike reeling. BYU immediately offered all students walk-in crisis consultation between the hours of 8AM and 5PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

For some students, the gesture was not enough. In the days following the suicide attempt, an anonymous female student penned an open letter to university administrators and taped the missive to the doors of the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at BYU.

In it, the student detailed the overwhelming lack of mental health services on offer for students and the difficulties faced by understaffed counselling services at the university. 

“If I killed myself today, would the university mourn my death?” the letter begins. “Would you ask yourselves why this happened, or simply say this couldn’t be helped?”

The letter continued: “Would you ask yourself, if I asked for help? Because the answer is I did. I have a therapist on campus, and he is wonderful and well qualified. But I only see him once a month. Because he has too many clients to see in one week. We are made into a number to be shuffled through the counseling center so that the university can say that they’re helping/ But for those of us that are in desperate need of care, we are lost in the masses of students who struggle.”

Across America, masses of students are struggling on college campuses. A study conducted in 2017 by the American College Health Association (ACHA) found that a third of students reported mental health issues, but that only half of them were seeking health. “If one in three college students were seeking mental health services,” the president of the ACHA told Healthline. “Our counseling centers wouldn’t be able to manage.” A further study in 2016 reported that the number of students considering suicide had increased from six to eight percent to 11%.

In her letter, the student, who described herself as “struggling” and “concerned”, added that the university has the opportunity to make real change after the tragic suicide earlier in December. “Will you allow the tragic event that occurred… to mean something, and be a catalyst for change? Or will it become a part of the unknown statistic, a forgotten event that is simply whispered about for years to come?” 

The response from BYU’s director of Counseling and Psychological Services shared the anonymous letter writer’s concern. “We share the frustration and worry of students who are concerned about the wait time for individual, non-crisis appointments,” Steve Smith, director of BYU’s CAPS department wrote.

Smith noted that, because of “increasing number of students seeking counselling”, full-time therapists have been increased from 27 to 29 in the past four years. Three part-time therapists were also currently being funded alongside a proposal to increase CAPS’ staff members. Smith added that BYU also offers a 24/7 counseling phone line every day of the year.

“Your caring concern is frequently the reason students feel empowered to come to CAPS,” he concluded. “Please continue to demonstrate this love and work with us to improve the mental health of all BYU students.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255.

Images: Unsplash

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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