Students struggle to access consistent and reliable psychiatric resources at the College, according to multiple student interviews with the Record. An increase in demand for mental health services this fall has contributed to a months-long wait list to see the only psychiatrist currently at the College, Dr. Susan Mahler.
If students run out of medication or need immediate medical advice before the next available appointment with Mahler, they can meet with a practitioner at the health center, according to a PDF included in an email sent by administrative assistant Jessica Russell. students seeking psychiatric care. . The PDF also states that students can consult with psychiatrists outside of the College through Talkspace psychiatry, a virtual resource that typically has a wait time of less than a week and is free for College students.
Mahler said Integrative Wellbeing Services (IWS) is aware of the long wait times and will hire a second psychiatrist this spring, which is expected to double the number of psychiatry hours available to students. “I am confident that with the additional services we are adding, we will be in a much better position to reduce wait times for appointments,” she wrote in an email to The Record.
Lemmy Evans ’23 said talking to school psychiatrists – both Mahler and a former psychiatrist they met last year – dramatically improved their quality of life. “Psychiatrists are helpful and they have information to share with you,” they said. “But there’s a lot of stress around the logistics.”
Other students told the Record that they struggled to maintain consistent access to psychiatric care at the College. Noah Jacobson ’22 said that every time he tries to make an appointment with Mahler, he has to explain that his medications are prescribed on a monthly basis, as they are subject to frequent changes, and have to insist on a longer meeting. sooner than the one proposed for the first time. to him.
Another student – who spoke to the record anonymously due to the personal nature of her experiences and medical needs and will be referred to by the pseudonym Cindy – said she had difficulty with the medication she received from the center of health instead of an appointment with Mahler. Cindy said she tried to see Mahler in the fall but wasn’t able to make an appointment with her until February. Instead, she went to the health center to see a nurse practitioner, who then prescribed her an antidepressant for her anxiety. “She didn’t talk much about the medications she was prescribing me and how it would affect me,” she said. “She just prescribed [it to] me immediately.
Cindy also said the nurse dismissed her concerns about possible side effects, telling her nausea would be the only problem. However, Cindy said continuing to take medication was “the worst experience of [her] life.”
During the first few days of her new medication, Cindy struggled to breathe during one of her classes, and after leaving class, she collapsed down the stairs on her way to her dorm. “He was doing the opposite of his job,” Cindy said. “I couldn’t leave my room. I was getting sick every five minutes.
After a week and a half, the nurse took Cindy off the antidepressant she had originally been prescribed and gave her another antidepressant. The second drug left him with side effects, including headaches and emotional dullness, or emotions duller than usual. At that time, Cindy decided to consult a private psychiatrist, who recommended that she immediately start weaning off the drug. Cindy’s experiences with the nurse practitioner at the health center left her feeling “misinformed.”
Director of Medical Services Deborah Flynn said practitioners at the health center, who are familiar with treating common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, can refer a student to Mahler if multiple medications fail or if the student does not respond as expected to specific doses.
Cindy’s practitioner did not recommend she see Mahler and did not respond to an email Cindy sent after winter break explaining that she had decided to go off her medication. said Cindy.
Like Cindy, Pat Klugman ’25 couldn’t make an appointment to see Mahler in the near future. Instead, he spoke to a Talkspace psychiatrist, but felt frustrated by his lack of professionalism, he said in an interview with the Record.
When signing up for Talkspace Psychiatry, Klugman listed the Williamstown apothecary as his pharmacy and his New York home as his address. After making an appointment with a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist asked why Klugman’s address and pharmacy were in different states. Klugman explained that he was a student and the psychiatrist canceled the meeting because they weren’t licensed in Massachusetts, he said.
After the cancellation of the first psychiatrist, Klugman rescheduled with another Talkspace psychiatrist. However, his experience with her was rushed and impersonal. “She was like, ‘Are you really happy, then really sad, then really happy? and I was saying no, and she was like, ‘OK, so you don’t have bipolar disorder,’” he said.
At this meeting, Klugman informed his psychiatrist of his current prescription, which she re-ordered for him. “I’m happy to have refills, but if that was a starting point, I’d be screwed,” he said. “I don’t think I would be comfortable coming in with something new to diagnose.”
Klugman said the whole process seemed unnecessarily complicated. “You have to go through a dozen hurdles just to get the drugs you think you need,” he added.
Evans said it was “ironic” that students have to go through several stressful stages to access the medications they take to reduce their stress levels. Like Jacobson, Evans’ medications are prescribed in shorter increments, as their effectiveness must be assessed frequently by a psychiatrist. Evans knew they would need a renewal soon and made an appointment with Mahler a few weeks into the school year.
Evans assumed the reunion would be remote, as their recordings had been with their former psychiatrist at College, but was told it had to take place in person. Due to this miscommunication, Evans then had to reschedule his appointment for the next available timeslot, which was in November. But when they arrived for the November meeting, Mahler had been away for the week and the date went pretty much anyway. Because Evans needed medication before November, they contacted the health center rather than Mahler when they needed refills.
Evans said they were frustrated with the obstacles they faced trying to get their medicine this year. “You feel very alone,” they said. “You have to do a lot of self-representation.”