I visited The College of Wooster in February 2020, which was pretty serendipitous considering how everything, at least in the American response to the coronavirus, would change in the following weeks. The mental health facilities of the school especially, which I made sure to ask about while visiting, were an aspect that seemed promising. Being on campus was something I was looking forward to, even with the heavy restrictions, as I finished high school in my room alone. And when I got here, I understood that a lot of other first years shared that sentiment.
The first semester was enjoyable until everything came crashing down as people valued their social life over the lives of others. I left campus early, at the end of October, when the lockdown almost strictly confined students to their rooms. Because, well, my roommate hadn’t come. I viewed it as something I was lucky to have — to be paying for a double and living alone — but it also became taxing on my mental health to constantly push myself out for people to interact with. While most became comfortable or reliant on their roommates for moderate social interaction, I was alone in my room and felt dejected and isolated from the community that was shown to me as a cornerstone of the College. Ironically enough, it wasn’t unlike the previous spring, alone in my room finishing another semester, just with fewer places to turn to for help.
Something I was keenly aware of during this period was a less than promising waitlist for counseling. I participated in the Let’s Talk program and was grateful for the opportunity, but I knew that the counselors on campus were working especially hard, and I had a feeling that my problems weren’t to a caliber that designated their time. So, before I came to campus this spring, I was ecstatic to find that I had a new roommate. However, a few days before move-in, she told me there had been a mistake in the housing programming and that she was not attending the College in person this semester. Some other close friends chose not to return to campus this semester in the aftermath of the outbreak in the fall.
I found myself attempting to fill a social void that only I seemed to notice. Along with that, insecurities festered with the fear that I would become overbearing or all-consuming to the people I wanted to spend time with. I spoke to an RA, who provided great feedback and whose time I valued because of the attention and compassion she gave me. She directed me to some resources, but when I called, the Wellness Center warned me of the long waitlist before offering a spot on it. With that, I hung up.
My RA put in a care request, and again I attended Let’s Talk, but I realized that the failed attempts at mental health treatment falling on deaf ears made me feel more disconnected from this community than ever. Loneliness, COVID-19 and the winter season have each taken their toll on my mental health, and without the necessary resources, I realized how deeply these issues had embedded themselves in how I was acting out, or specifically, how I wasn’t. Counseling is overbooked and understaffed, and each route to receiving help for mental health is not without its own limitations to access, or to even providing help at all.
It’s a perplexing situation because the strain comes from spending too much time alone, but it also shows itself when you’re constantly putting yourself out there to interact with others. Every person has a responsibility to be mindful of their own mental health, though I can’t help but feel short changed as the school year continues and I’ve yet to find some sense of balance in how to interact with others and build some sense of community for my own reassurance.