Whitman’s health services are in shambles and students are suffering

Hailey Livingston, Columnist

Last week, I made my way to the health center for the first time since returning to campus. I had to get a COVID-19 test, nothing serious, just a quick in and out visit. When I got there, there was a line of students waiting to get tested too. 

It was my first time getting a test from the health center, so I wasn’t sure if this was normal. Come to find out, there’s usually a large collection of students pacing outside the testing doors. There’s a limited amount of time that the health center offers COVID-19 testing, so it will inevitably be crowded during those times.

As tests came out, the nurses yelled out the patient’s name, followed by a “you tested negative.” I don’t want to misspeak, but that is a HIPPA violation, is it not? To read out medical test results in front of a group of people? Luckily, in this instance, everyone was informed they tested negative for COVID-19, but sheesh, it would be so embarrassing to have your name called out in front of 15 people followed by a “you tested positive.”

Again, while I was at the testing site, everyone was testing negative, but what if someone had been positive? We were close to each other simply by the nature of the setup of the testing center. If we had tested positive, there would have been a clear pool of people that were also at risk. Duh, that is a risk when you get COVID-19 tested, but the situation was shocking regardless.

This excursion to the testing center made me wonder how the other health center services work at Whitman. I remember my tour guide gushing about the fantastic resources and help offered by the health center and counseling center here at Whitman. It’s a little funny, since being here, all I have heard about the counseling center is how horrendous it is. 

The counseling center is overbooked. There’s a lot to unpack from that statement. The counseling center is overbooked because Whitman students need support. This could be for a billion different reasons: maybe one student is missing their family. Perhaps another student is overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork they have. There could be a student that needs to talk to someone after experiencing sexual assault. There could be a student that feels isolated from their peers. The list goes on and on.

Regardless of the reason, there is an abundance of students that need support, and right now, that support is not available. The counseling center has X amount of therapists. That number hasn’t changed, even with the influx of students with this year’s extra-large first-year class. It’s no wonder that students cannot receive support; there hasn’t been an adjustment in the number of therapists available. 

If I were a student struggling with depression, or any mental illness for that matter, I can’t imagine how helpless I would feel after visiting our counseling center. When you’re feeling low, the last thing that you need to hear is that there is no one available to help you—that you must put your bad feelings on hold until someone is ready to talk. How would that feel, other than terrible? A student struggling with depression already feels alone, and now, the health center is telling them they can’t help at all?

It is possible admin doesn’t know this, but that’s not how depression works… at all. Deciding that you need help is a huge step that, for many people, feels impossible. When you’re feeling depressed, taking care of yourself is hard—really hard. I imagine making a productive phone call to the counseling center takes a lot of energy, and to only be turned away has to feel beyond exhausting and heartbreaking. 

Whitman has a rich-kid stereotype, so we often forget not every student here has the means to pay out of pocket for health services. That’s why the counseling center is great in theory, but right now, I promise it is doing more harm than good. The last thing a student struggling with mental health needs to hear is that they aren’t important enough to fit into a schedule. Admin, please make your way down to the health center and see the it for yourself; your students are suffering.