Trump’s victory has already spurred an uptick in the need for mental health care nationwide, and yet, the President-elect’s stance on health care implies that we will soon see a decline in accessible mental health services.
Crisis hotlines such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and the Trevor Project’s suicide hotline both reported a sharp incline in calls following the election, and the Trans Lifeline received a record number of calls on the night of Tuesday, Nov. 8 (Market Watch, “Trump’s win is causing a surge in demand for mental health services,” 11.12.2016). Crisis response centers across the country have begun reaching out to their respective communities in an effort to expand their staffs.
This is not the first time an escalation of crisis hotline calls has been attributed to Trump: in October, RAINN, an organization offering support to sexual assault survivors, experienced a 33 percent increase in calls following the release of a tape in which Trump was recorded bragging about his sexual assault of various women (Market Watch).
And yet despite the increased mental strain placed on the country as a whole, a Trump administration will most likely mean dwindling mental health resources.
Aside from the President-elect’s evident lack of empathy for minorities and others whose well-being may be disproportionately at risk, the most concrete way that Trump will likely limit resources is reversal of the Affordable Care Act. The Republican Party has frequently made its dissatisfaction with Obamacare clear, and Trump has repeatedly promised to get rid of it or significantly limit its coverage. A few days after the election, Trump asserted, “I would absolutely get rid of Obamacare. [But] I want to keep pre-existing conditions. It’s a modern age, and I think we have to have it” (Forbes, “Donald Trump is right: you can repeal Obamacare and still cover everyone with pre-existing conditions,” 11.12.2016). While he has agreed to cover “pre-existing” physical afflictions–although his plans for doing so remain hazy–Trump’s proposed mental health coverage is almost nonexistent. His campaign website only vaguely gestures to mental illness, stating, “There are promising reforms being developed in Congress that should receive bi-partisan [sic] support” (donaldjtrump.com, “Healthcare reform to make America great again,” 2016).
The threat of shrinking mental health resources means that it is all the more crucial to facilitate sufficient care on college campuses. Vassar students have consistently called for improvements in Vassar’s mental health services: in February 2014, the VSA requested the addition of a post-doctoral fellow position in Metcalf; last winter, Vassar Students for Mental Health petitioned for general improvements within Metcalf; shortly after, the VSA wrote a letter endorsing the petition (The Miscellany News, “Health services lack access, especially when classes end,” 12.02.2015). And yet, mental health services remain inadequate to meet student needs. In the face of a Trump presidency and the subsequent loss of Obamacare–which at this point seems fairly likely–it is all the more crucial for Vassar to focus on mental health care.
Much of the College’s shortcomings in terms of mental health care can be attributed to Metcalf’s lack of visibility on campus, as well as its limited hours and staff. Additionally, many students attest that counselors frequently encourage them to look to off-campus services within their first few visits to Metcalf. Seeking outside counseling is an unrealistic option for most students considering the unreliable and costly transportation services available in Poughkeepsie; furthermore, not all healthcare providers cover therapy and counseling.
Although the College has begun to address the issue–Metcalf welcomed three new counselors this fall–Vassar’s mental health services continue to lack the depth and comprehensiveness necessary. The addition of more staff members has already decreased the wait time for an initial appointment to under a week, and yet, for some students, a few days can make a significant difference.
Scrapping Obamacare will only complicate the process of seeking help for students who require mental health services–and the number is steadily growing. According to an American College Health Association survey, the number of students who were diagnosed with or treated for depression has increased 10.7 percent since 2011, while 11.6 percent more students have been diagnosed with depression (The Wall Street Journal, “Students flood college mental-health centers,” 10.16.2016).
As treatment for those with mental illnesses becomes more scarce, the number of people who land in the emergency room for mental health problems is bound to increase significantly. Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at Brown University Dr. Thomas Chun explains, “We are the wrong site for these patients … Our crazy, chaotic environment is not a good place for them” (NPR, “How gaps in mental health care play out in emergency rooms,” 10.17.2016). Emergency rooms are often cramped and insufficiently staffed to deal with an escalation in mental health emergencies, which hurts patients, a disproportionate number of which are young people. Dr. Lindsay Irvin, a pediatrician in San Antonio, states that undiagnosed depression has frequently already progressed to suicidal intent by the time young patients end up in the ER (NPR). She adds that this can be attributed in part to the dearth of psychiatrists who specialize in treating adolescents and young adults. After leaving the hospital, the resources for outpatient care simply are not in place: the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates there are only 8,300 such specialists in the U.S., for more than 15 million young patients (NPR).
The proportion of students requiring mental health services is steadily increasing both nationwide and within Vassar’s campus, and the number is not likely to decrease anytime soon, particularly considering the current political climate. Although Vassar is first and foremost, of course, an educational institution, it is impossible for students to take full advantage of all that the College has to offer while battling a mental illness. This campus is not only a collection of classrooms, but also a home; Vassar owes it to its students to provide care, to the best of its ability, that will allow them to thrive both academically and otherwise.