Q: What exactly is your job on campus?
A: I’m a clinical psychiatrist and clinical coordinator here at CAPS, so I provide counsel service for students. I also do some psychological assessments, and provide clinical supervision. We also do outreach and training programs here. We do RA training in the fall, and we do QPR (question, persuade, refer) training.
Q: How do you feel mental illness is treated on campus?
A: I think for the most part its treated pretty well. The standard line is that there is a lot of stigma around mental health, and I think there is still some of that here for some people. But I think for the most part Hope’s community recognizes that mental health is important, that mental illness can be a real thing that manifests itself in the brain and impacts behavior and emotions and cognitive functions.
Q: Have you noticed change in how mental illness is dealt with on campus?
A: I would say that, if there was a stigma, it’s getting less and less. This is my seventh year here, and it’s pretty much true that with every year there’s been an increase in students we see, so I think that students are more comfortable coming in here.
Q: Do you think that there’s any unique aspects/struggles with dealing with mental illness on a faith-based campus?
A: How we approach it at CAPS is that, we will see anybody, so obviously at Hope there’s a lot of students whose faith is very important to them, but there are some students for whom faith is not a part of their life at all. We make sure we are open to everyone, so if somebody comes in here, and they bring faith and religion as an important piece that they want to include in the work they do here, we are happy to do that. But we don’t want to assume every student comes in that way; that’s automatically going to exclude people. So if students really want biblical counseling, then we’ll refer them to campus ministries or somebody off campus, because we come from a more social-science background.
Q: When you have any sort of conversation with anyone about mental illness, what do you find yourself saying the most?
A: Sleep, eat, take care of yourself: no seriously, have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? On the bottom is, “Well, you have to be safe. You have to have food, you have to have shelter.” If you don’t have that, none of the higher order things are going to come. So we stress that with students a lot. You’ve got to take care of all that basic stuff first. I think there’s a culture here of pulling all-nighters, the whole “I can get by on less sleep than you.” There’s a badge of honor with that, and it’s really unhealthy. It creates problems that may not be there and can be misdiagnosed as some sort of mental health issue.
Q: Is there anything that you’d like to say to Hope College students about this issue?
A: Don’t suffer alone. Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re struggling then give yourself a break. It may not just be that “I’m lazy, I’m not a good student, or I’m unmotivated, etc.” Maybe there’s something deeper going on. Reach out; come to CAPS, there’s a helping circle of places on campus: CAPS, the health center, Campus Ministries, student development, Campus Safety. If you’re struggling, get connected to that helping circle and say, “hey, something’s not right for me.” Don’t do it alone.