OPINION: Coping with congested mental health resources


Megan Koch

Boone is a beautiful place surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and an abundance of green spaces, but they can be extremely inaccessible if you can’t get out of bed. There comes a point where self-help is no longer enough and professional intervention is required. The problem is, mental health services are not equally accessible and as the pandemic has progressed so has the need for services.

 Nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness, and more than one in three high school students have reported experiencing depressive symptoms in 2019. The overall well-being of Americans is on the decline and it is being felt heaviest by adolescents and young adults. The average age of those struggling is also the average age of people attending university. The argument isn’t whether there are services, it is whether there is enough. Winter is often a time when people feel isolated and overwhelmed, which may push people to seek out help, but many may leave empty-handed.

App State’s counseling and psychological services are many students’ only options in a country lacking universal healthcare. The services provided are short-term individual counseling, group counseling, short-term couples/families, workshops and emergency services. The wait time for an initial consultation is averaging about a week and the wait to speak with a licensed counselor is about one to two weeks. They see students every other week for a short amount of time free of charge. This option is fantastic for people addressing specific problems with a goal in mind. If they believe a student would benefit from longer or different services, they will refer them to places in the community. This is where it gets tricky.

Insurance is a limiting factor when it comes to getting adequate care, and many people either lack it altogether or have severely limited options. Many of these facilities have incredibly long waitlists, especially for psychiatric care. For example, Appalachian regional outpatient care has a waitlist of over 200 people. Boone isn’t alone in this, six of 10 Americans have reported having sought out or wanting to seek treatment. Emergency rooms across the nation are overfilled with psychiatric emergencies and have few resources to offer assistance. Long wait times can negatively affect the total outcome of treatment as well as discourage people from even trying.

The common thread between Boone and the rest of America is that there is a lot of time spent waiting. Here is a quick survival guide to make those in-between days a little lighter.

Lose the judgment

Emotions are already big enough, judging them only makes you suffer twice. It is a common concept in psychological studies that all behavior has a cause, and that cause is discovered through professional help or self-reflection. If you are in the waiting stages, be kind to yourself. Harsh criticisms only hinder growth, humans develop from a series of nurture and nature that are entirely out of our control. The best way to get over big feelings is to feel them entirely — to judge is to disconnect. 

Be kind to others

Unfortunately, your shortcomings in life are not at the fault of your friends and family. Being sad or stressed is not an excuse to be a horrible person. Being irritable is a symptom of most mental illnesses and can be managed with self-awareness. If you find yourself being rude, maybe reflect on your triggers and try to manage your exposure to them. If you find that you’ve hurt someone you love, hold yourself accountable. Don’t push away the people that love you during this hard time. Isolation only leads to a faster progression of symptoms.

Realistic goals

This is not the time to load up your day with large tasks. Goal-setting is an important part of human development, but there is a fine line between being inspired and setting yourself up for failure. When it is impossible to get out of bed in the morning, it is unrealistic to expect yourself to complete a laundry list. When setting a goal, a great template to use is the SMART goal process. And if taking the time to construct a goal is too intense, do something today that will make you feel a little better then do something that will make your tomorrow a little better. It doesn’t have to be big.

Touch grass

Boone is a beautiful place with lots of opportunities to touch grass. Our ancestors did not evolve in suburbia; they evolved butt-naked in the dirt. It is scientifically proven that time outside lowers stress levels, leads to attention restoration and gives a much-needed break from the screen. In a recent study, students who paused for 40 seconds midway through a task to look at a flowering green roof made fewer mistakes than the latter.

Get off the mountain

At the end of the day, Boone may not have the resources to support every person seeking help, but lucky for us technology has opened up new opportunities. Since COVID-19 began, online health services have expanded, making it possible to meet with professionals from your home. This gives a patient more power in finding the right fit when they are not tied down by geographical locations. If you don’t mind the drive, there are more services 40 minutes to an hour away. This may not be sustainable for weekly therapy appointments but could be doable for psychiatric appointments that take place every few months. America is not a country that will advocate for you. Reach out to a friend if you’re struggling and check in on your friends as well, all we have is each other.

If you or someone you know is having a mental emergency you can contact App State’s counseling and psychological services at (828) 262-3180 and a counselor will meet with you as soon as possible.