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Do Better, Cornell Health: Students Share Testimonies of Their Experiences

by Hanna Carney //

Trigger Warning: Anxiety, depression, and mention of suicidal thoughts 

I recently overheard a student having a conversation with a member of Cornell Health’s staff. The student expressed how he thought Cornell Health services should be advertised better, as he felt that a lot of students do not take advantage of the CAPS program (Counseling & Psychological Services). The administrator responded that she wasn’t sure why more students don’t go to Cornell health, because there are “all these doctors” waiting around to help people. This statement made me pause. Why was this administrator implying that Cornell Health is somehow overstaffed? Is the building lacking in patients? Are doctors and mental health professionals simply waiting around to treat people? This hasn’t been my experience. The last time I was in a Cornell Health waiting room (pre-COVID), there were so many seats filled that I overheard a doctor gasp and express concern about how many students there were. I also know that many of my friends, acquaintances, and their friends struggle to get appointments with therapists—they’ve been asked to wait weeks to see someone, even after emphasizing how badly they needed an appointment. 

I also know that many of my friends, acquaintances, and their friends struggle to get appointments with therapists—they’ve been asked to wait weeks to see someone, even after emphasizing how badly they needed an appointment. 

Although Cornell Health has done an immense amount of work to make Cornell as safe as possible for us during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are too many instances where they have fallen short. Included are all the testimonies submitted to an anonymous survey responding to the question: “What is an experience (or experiences) you’ve had at Cornell Health?”

Some punctuation marks have been added or removed for grammatical correctness and clarity. Some phrases have been added in brackets for clarity.

I had to wait 5 weeks for an appointment with a Cornell Psychiatrist for a prescription. It was apparently considered non-urgent. Even after these 5 weeks, I did not even end up getting the prescription at the appointment. The doctor said they would write the prescription, but when I went to the pharmacy, I found that it was never even filled out. When I called Cornell Health, I found that they had never filled out the details in their notes such as dosage or instructions, let alone put the prescription into the system. I’m on week 7 now and still don’t have it. 

I went to Cornell Health for a speculated STI appointment and had PreP (an HIV preventive drug) pushed aggressively. The nurse I saw tried to peer pressure me into it [by] saying that all the other gay men at Cornell are on it. Later in the same appointment, she tried to shame me into it and [warned] me about stealthing (when a top removed the condom secretly) and [said] that it was common “in the gay community.” I ended up just having a UTI but felt embarrassed throughout my entire appointment and very targeted. The nurse later sent me emails with information on PreP as well. 

I started going to counseling at Cornell Health at the end of my fall semester sophomore year. I was also seeing my designated Cornell doctor who started prescribing me medication for my anxiety and depression, but none of the medication he prescribed helped. My mental health started to get concerningly [bad] in December and continued to decline through February. We were sent home in March 2019 for COVID [when] I decided to see a psychiatrist, who helped me get on medication that really helped my depression. But [the medication] drastically increased my anxiety and had some debilitating side effects. I got back to Cornell in the fall of my junior year and had to go back to Cornell Health, as my doctor out of state could not continue my care while I was out of state. I wanted to change my medication because the side effects were interfering with my school work. I waited two weeks to see my assigned doctor who told me he could [no longer] help me due to the nature of my new prescription and would have to refer me to the psychiatrist. To see the psychiatrist I had to make [my] schedule fit a one hour time slot 5 weeks out or wait even longer to get help. The psychiatrist started me on an excruciatingly long weaning off process. 

Fast forward to November 2020 and I still am not off the medication, and routinely have to wait 5 weeks in between psychiatry appointments. After waiting 5 weeks, I get a call 30 minutes before my appointment saying the psychiatrist cannot see me and [I] would have to reschedule for another 4 weeks out. I have had several anxiety attacks in the weeks leading up and could not wait this long, so naturally, I panicked. The receptionist on the phone was very stern and not at all comforting. The only way she said she could help me was by letting me see a therapist who I had never spoken to [before]. So, I spoke to the therapist, and she said she would look into finding me an appointment because they (theoretically) save appointment spaces for these kinds of emergencies. I heard nothing from her in the time frame in which she said I would. I had uncontrollable crying spells for the next few days because I felt so alone and helpless. My own therapist later told me she would work on it, and I heard nothing. About a week later, the psychiatrist called me on a random school night at about 5pm to talk about my medication, but I had already decided that it would be within my best interest to go home for the remainder of the semester and seek care that could be more hands on and available. 

The fact that Cornell health offers you 25 minute sessions every other week is a joke. Every therapist outside of Cornell Health who I have talked to about this has literally laughed out loud. It is just enough time to say, “yeah I feel awful, depressed, and have regular panic attacks. Ok, see you next week.” I was talking to my therapist once about a past relationship I was in and then in the last 2 minutes she said, “well that sounds like emotional abuse.” She never brought up the relationship again nor did she ask me if that was something I wanted to discuss, as if that wasn’t a traumatic experience that greatly contributed to my mental health.

It’s been pretty garbage. Gendered diagnoses that stigmatize men’s mental health issues. For example, men on my [athletic] team were deemed as medically malnourished during sports clearance, but were allowed to compete that season (even as incoming freshmen). Women on my team would never be allowed to compete if considered underweight and would have to undergo many other examinations and nutrition appointments.

I went to Cornell Health on Tuesday and they diagnosed me with mono by Thursday. I would say this was a pretty quick turnaround [compared to] my friend who had mono at the same time as me, but was told she did not have mono. She ended up having to go home because she was so sick and then was diagnosed at home. Cornell Health was proactive about getting me the medication I needed, speaking with my parents on the phone, and emailing my teachers.

I made an appointment at Cornell Health, and in my session, I told my counselor that I was having thoughts of ending my life (I’m okay now but clearly wasn’t at the time). In my later sessions, I was still having those thoughts, but he never asked about them again or made sure I was okay in that regard, and I found that really confusing. 

I told my therapist about some abusive relationships I’ve been in, and when I finished explaining, my therapist said, “have you ever heard of gaslighting?” I told her that I had and we discussed further. In my next session three weeks later, we were discussing those same relationships, and she said “have you ever heard of gaslighting?” She [had clearly] forgotten about our previous session and didn’t remember much about my situation. There have been multiple instances like this one that indicated she was never truly paying attention to me. I feel that Cornell Health needs to give us longer sessions (I could only get in for twenty minutes every few weeks) and needs to hire more doctors. 

Cornell Health ALWAYS tells me what I have must be mono EXCEPT for the time when it ACTUALLY was mono, when they said it couldn’t be that.

I write this not to discourage anyone from using Cornell Health’s services—if you need any sort of help or support, you should absolutely seek it (resources are listed below). However, I believe that Cornell Health can do much better.

I write this not to discourage anyone from using Cornell Health’s services—if you need any sort of help or support, you should absolutely seek it (resources are listed below). However, I believe that Cornell Health can do much better. We are college students that study at an intense school where the prevalence of anxiety and depression is higher than it should be. On top of that, we are currently in a pandemic, which has shown to act as a risk factor for the onset of disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders or to exacerbate pre-existing conditions. If there’s a time to take action, it’s now. Cornell Health, do better. 

Resources

For urgent services, you may reach the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the 24/7 National Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741, the 24/7 National Lifeline Crisis Chat service here, or call 911.

Refer to the CDC’s Mental Health Tools and Resources page here for education on topics related to mental health.

For support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one relating to disordered eating or an eating disorder, you may contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline. You may call (800) 931-2237, text (800) 931-2237 from the hours of 3-6pm Monday through Thursday, or you can access the chat feature here. For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line. 

If you are a member of Cornell University, Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is available to all students at Cornell University. If you feel you are in need of psychological services, you may call to set up an appointment with CAPS at 607-255-5155 or visit their website here. For urgent services, you may reach the Cornell Health 24/7 phone consultation line at 607-255-5155 and press 2.