Earlham’s Mental Health Crisis Will Hiring A New Counsellor Help?

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Earlham’s Mental Health Crisis Will Hiring A New Counsellor Help?

Mental health and Earlham mental health services have been the subject of countless
conversations and complaints on campus for a long time. Many such criticisms involve counseling
services, but we may be about to witness a shift in the conversation as Erni Bufford, Earlham’s newest
counselor, joins the team.
Mental health has a profound impact on every aspect of our campus. However, Earlham is not
alone as US college campuses witness a widespread crisis. According to Richard Kadison, chief of
Mental Health Services at Harvard University, and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo a writer in the field of
education, there has been a, “steady and alarming rise in the severity of students’ mental health problems
across the nation.” They state that among college students today, “the chances are almost one in two that
he or she will become depressed to the point of being unable to function; one in two that he or she will
have regular episodes of binge drinking… and one in ten that he or she will seriously consider suicide.”
This has an enormous impact on academic, social and extracurricular life. The crisis on college
campuses is growing exponentially, with no end in sight.
Students Respond to Counselling Services:
Sophomore Caroline Stone talked about, “how hard it is just to go to class when you’re suffering
from mental health issues,” and that, “it’s hard for a lot of professors here to understand that.” Many
students I talked to reiterate this sentiment, with sophomore Haley Arbitelle saying, “My mental health
has made my academic life hell.” Similarly, sophomore Nic Goddard describes having, “skipped events
that she helped plan,” and often feels, “really anti-social because I slept through my whole day.”
Earlham offers several forms of help to students struggling with mental health issues. Namely, it
offers counseling through Counseling Services, accommodations through Academic Enrichment, and a
24/7 crisis hotline (765-983-1221). I was unable to find any individual who had called the hotline and it
appears to be a largely unhelpful, and redundant resource, according to most students.
Until Monday, March 25 th , Counseling Services at Earlham consisted of a mere two-person team,
Fred Diamond III, a counselor, and Jessica Sanford, Director of Counseling Services. Student experiences
with counseling services varied widely. While some students described wholly negative experiences,
others narrated mixed and positive reactions. Often, students felt frustrated by the scheduling of
appointments because, as freshman Daniel Oni puts it, “most of the days are often already booked,
leaving almost no free slots.” Similarly, Erin Lee described the “structural problem” of “limited staff” at
counseling. Erin says that, “When I hoped to see a counselor the next day or even within two days to
receive help that I needed, there were no empty scheduling slots left until the next week.”
Haley Arbitelle stated, “they are not willing to help me. I was told that my issues were too big to
be handled by one counselor and was told to go to another one. After saying I was not comfortable with
that second counselor, I was told to try to reach out to a therapist in the Richmond community, but was
ultimately recommended the hotline after sharing that I do not have insurance. It sucked because it was
the first time I had reached out and I immediately felt invalidated.”
Some students felt that counseling was unable to help them with problems specific to their life
experiences. For example, one anonymous student said that, “when I wanted to talk about sex-work as it
was affecting me emotionally, I found counseling services to be ill-equipped and I felt self-conscious.
Sophomore Erin Lee expressed frustration that the counselors are under-prepared to help international

students, especially since she feels that a, “large portion of my struggles (anxiety/panic
attacks/depression) stem from my negative experiences as an expatriate.”
Meanwhile other students had more positive feedback. One anonymous student said that, “I have
developed a good relationship with Fred, and my experience has been that it helps as a stabilizing check-
in….Fred also equips other students with mindfulness practices, and he listens without judgment…I…am
helped by sporadic visits and feel comforted knowing it is there. My traumas feel acknowledged and my
pain feels witnessed.” Daniel says that, “I hesitated before going to counseling services mostly because of
the negative things I’ve heard,” but describes his experience as, “positive so far,” and hopes to keep going
so that he can, “fully gauge its effectiveness.” Many other students also expressed sympathy for the
counsellors, feeling that they are overworked.
Other students felt that counseling was unable to help them with problems specific to their life
experiences. For example, one anonymous student said that, “when I wanted to talk about sex-work as it
was affecting me emotionally, I found counseling services to be ill equipped and I felt self-conscious, so I
am not comfortable talking about this part of my life there.” Erin expressed frustration that the counselors
are ill-equipped to help international students, especially since she feels that a, “large portion of my
struggles (anxiety/panic attack/depression) stem from my negative experiences as an expatriate.”
Academic Enrichment Center and Student Responses:
The Academic Enrichment Center functions as the campus disability services center and offers
various accommodations to help with a wide array of problems, including mental health issues.
Donna Keisling, director of the Academic Enrichment Center, states that, “I work with all
students who disclose a disability and students can seek accommodations.” Accommodations are not tied
to any particular diagnosis but to the circumstances of an individual’s, “major life activity.” In order to
receive accommodations, Donna says there has to be professional documentation that, “the major life
activity,” they want accommodation for is, “substantially impaired.” This means that, “Someone can have
disability status that doesn’t meet accommodation. For example, anxiety and depression have disability
status within our society. But does it need accommodation? That’s where a professional comes in.”
According to Donna, Academic Enrichment Center works closely with counseling. “Sometimes they refer
students to me and sometimes I refer students to them.”
Caroline Stone went to Academic Enrichment to discuss the state of her mental health and its
effects on her academic performance but was repeatedly told, “we can give you more time to take tests,”
despite explaining that that was not the problem at hand. She describes the experience as, “very
frustrating because I just wasn’t being listened to at all.” Nic echoed this sentiment, saying, “I went to
Academic Enrichment after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder because starting medication was
making me miss class, and I was really behind. She told me… she could help me get some extensions for
essays but that I would have to know a week in advance… which isn’t how my mental health works. I
couldn’t possibly know. She taught me how to use Kurzweil for over half of our meeting even after I
repeatedly said that I have trouble with auditory learning.” Donna says that she aims to provide,
“reasonable accommodation,” while considering, “how it will alter the classroom experience.”
Lastly, Ellie Haland referring to mental health services at Earlham, said, “there needs to be a way
for students to give feedback anonymously. I have had bad experiences and so have other students and
there should be some sort of accountability.”
Positive Prospective:
Some of the concerns expressed by students regarding counselling services might be about to
change as Ernie Bufford begins to work part-time for Earlham counseling. This new addition might allow
students to choose from a slightly larger selection of counselors, leading to shorter waiting-times before
their appointments.
Ernie, who has worked in the mental health field for the last 12 years says that she is, “very
passionate about my role as a counselor and I love to see people live their best lives. I have a lot of

experience helping people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, interpersonal
relationships, and every day stressors.”
Several students have reiterated some version of the sentiment, “I would, maybe, go back to
counseling if they hired new people.” Many students feel that mental health services at Earlham, “need to
take student complaints into account” and “listen to us!”

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