Columbia's Counseling and Psychological Services are capable of two things. First: They can appoint a person to talk you through your emotional troubles. Second: They can prescribe medication. What Counseling and Psychological Services do not do is magically fix you.
Mikhail Klimentov wrote a column last February in which he pointed out the many areas in which CPS needs fixing. However, though I'll be the first to acknowledge that CPS needs reworking, trying to do so resembles researching chemotherapy methods for a population of chain smokers. Hire the best oncologists on the planet—more smokers will still keep coming. To help our peers suffering from mental health issues, we need to also address the underlying social atmosphere that contributes to the depression and anxiety rampant on campus.
As a comparison, take diabetes. Like many mental disorders, diabetes lasts for the duration of a person's lifetime. But diabetes patients, unlike patients with mental illness, aren't left to shoulder their problems alone. They receive communal support from their friends and family. They get sympathetic aid from school or work institutions. People with mental health disorders, on the other hand, get sent to the 8th floor of Lerner. It's not the diabetic who is told repeatedly by their community, "Go to your insulin doctor so I can pretend that your diabetes doesn't exist."
Mental wellness at Columbia takes a village, not just a doctor. As a university, we need to come together to address the issue as administrators, faculty, and students. Firstly, we have to demand change in the way our administration acknowledges mental illness. We need to train our student advisers to be both advocates for students' well-being, as well as sources of emotional support. When a student's mental illness holds her back from excelling, we need to be able to do more than say, "I can ask CPS to write your professor a letter." We need our advisers to hold clout with professors, to be able to get students the occasional accommodations they need. We need them to give struggling students advice on how to manage their coursework when they can barely get up to feed themselves. We similarly need to connect them to confidential peer listening services such as Nightline.
We need our faculty to regularly remind our students that they exist as people, something beyond exam scores. Professors in seminar courses should build a rapport with students so that students can feel comfortable explaining their mental illness. Professors in large lecture courses lack the luxury of close contact, but should still openly express their availability and support.
And lastly, as students, we need to foster a healthy environment for one another. I'm fully aware of the kind of grades we all need to get into law school, grad school, a consulting job, or the book publishing industry. But some parts of our community foster an attitude where stress is normal and sabotaging one's peers is rewarded by a better curve. Some circles jokingly-but-not-so-jokingly brag about the "horror" of witnessing a "Butler Sunrise." Unlike other issues, solving our own behavior can't be fixed with an official policy change.
Each of us should step back and think about how our actions contribute to a mentally healthy community. What have you done to help today?