by Celina Simmons and the Beacon’s Editorial Staff
You are about to read through a student’s personal experience while trying to access the counseling services provided to them through the SMCC/Sweetser partnership. This student is not alone in their struggle with the process:
It’s been a week since I decided to seek out counseling services here at school. I’m in my last semester and the fear of life beyond school was something I wanted to get one step ahead of. Even though I was skeptical of the new Sweetser partnership as it always seemed like a lot of steps just to get a meeting, I decided to give it a shot.
First, I went up to the third floor of Howe Hall to see if I could schedule an appointment in person. The counseling office door was closed, so I talked to Sandra Lynham in the office across the hall. She gave me a card with the Sweeter promise line and told me to specify that I was an SMCC student looking for mental health services. She went on to tell me they’d ask for my basic information such as name, number, and date of birth to verify with the school that I was a student, as well as if I had health insurance, and that I shouldn’t have any problems making an appointment over the phone.
I didn’t dally in calling the hotline in order to hold myself accountable since I knew it was something I would put off if given the chance. A woman answered after a short wait on hold. I told her I was an SMCC student looking to schedule an appointment with the counseling services on campus. There was a short pause followed by her audible drawn-out “Ummm”
“So you’re looking for therapy?” Her tone emphasized the last word as if I had misspoken and she was correcting me. I repeated what I had told her. That I was an SMCC student seeking counseling services on campus.
“So if you’re looking for therapy, you’ll have to come into one of our offices for an evaluation. The closest one to you would be Sandford.”
This was not at all how I was told the call would go. I was so caught off guard that I didn’t think to ask why I needed to go to Sandford to schedule an appointment with someone who’s here on campus. After telling me the evaluation doesn’t cost money and I can come at any time, I thanked her and hung up.
I knew that wasn’t supposed to be how I got an appointment, based on what Sandra Lynham had told me when she gave me the card. So, I waited until Monday to try again thinking, “Perhaps a different representative would answer the phone.” And I was right.
This Sweetser employee was much kinder and knew what I was looking for. The only problem was that she hadn’t yet been trained on how to enter people into the system or something along those lines. She took my name, date of birth, and phone number before reassuring me that another representative would call me the next day to get an appointment set up. That’s where the phone call ended.
As I was driving to school on Wednesday, I received and missed the promised call. After arriving at my destination, I listened to the message and immediately called the number the representative told me to call in the recording. After a minute or so, I was sent to voicemail. No big deal, I thought, I could just try again tomorrow.
The next day I called the number and got sent to voicemail again.
Despite feeling rather hopeless about the idea that I would ever be able to make an appointment over the phone, I climbed up the three flights of stairs on more time on Friday to see if the counselor’s door was open. It wasn’t.
I went back down to the lobby of the building and decided to give the number I had tried the last two days one last shot.
It rang. I sat patiently, anxiously awaiting another human voice to pick up the other end of the line.
“Your call has been forwarded to-”
I hung up.
Though Sweetser proved to be unhelpful, faculty here at school was superb. I told Sarah Lynham my experience the following Tuesday. She passed along my story to the Dean of Students who contacted me the next morning, letting me know she had asked the on campus counselor to contact me personally. I had an appointment shortly after that.
The support for students mental wellbeing is strong here on campus. If you have any problems with the Sweetser promise line, the best thing you can do is to tell someone you trust. Your experience and that feedback is important for the school to know, because they can then hold Sweester accountable.
The Beacon is moving forward in learning more about these issues and shedding light onto them, as well as speaking directly with the in-house counselor provided on campus to get her input on this matter.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health and need immediate help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone in this fight with mental health and you never will be. To set up an appointment with the in-house counselor on campus for free, you can reach the Sweetser Promise Line at 1-800-434-3000.