When a Mental Health Survey Makes You More Fucked Up

Posted by at 12:04AM

After receiving an e-mail from the illustrious Larry Diamond imploring his students to complete the Campus Climate Survey, which he helped design as a part of the mental health task force, I decided to do my duty as a citizen, interrupt my writing of a 15-page paper in the middle of the night, and put precious mental energy, time, and care into thoughtfully completing the survey.
As I filled out the survey, I found myself appreciating the creativity of the survey design, and felt a certain sense of relief in filling out the answers — thinking that, finally, I was getting an opportunity to help this clueless University figure out what is causing students to suffer unnecessary psychological, psychosomatic, and direct physical harm from the stress they experience in every day life.
But then the survey lost my responses, telling me only that an “error” had occurred. Shocked and in disbelief, I tried to go back to retrieve my answers, but was locked out by the survey, which told me “our records indicate that you’ve already completed the survey.” No, I definitely had not.
Pissed off and stressed out, I sent a flame e-mail (sorry) to Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, one of two contacts listed for the survey, and then figuratively (because I was sitting in the CoHo) banged my head against the wall for several minutes. Imagine if I were already suicidal.

In analyzing the situation, it’s clear that I was logged off by the system because I was putting too much thought into my responses. The system warns students at the beginning that 20 minutes of “inactivity” will cause them to be logged off, but I had been between pages within 20 minutes. Thinking and typing don’t register as “activity” (though they should) and, more surprisingly, neither does proceeding through at least some of the survey pages.
In putting together such an important and sensitive survey, what the hell were they doing not making every effort to preserve entered data? Why allow students to get logged off at all? Total incompetence.
The experience of unloading my thoughts and feelings about Stanford’s mental health support system reminded me, curiously, of my experience in Stanford’s mental health support system. During a particularly difficult time for me two years ago, I went to Vaden to get help with insomnia. I was given sleeping pills and referred to CAPS. After three sessions, my therapist was transferred out of CAPS, and so I had to repeat everything to my next therapist, who rudely told me I would have to repeat everything again to another therapist if I wanted to talk to someone long-term. CAPS couldn’t help me beyond 10 sessions, and he usually didn’t see students for more than five. So I went to talk to another therapist at the Stanford Psychiatry Clinic, as a part of Cardinal Care. He was sympathetic but suggested, after I had repeated myself a third time and was starting to feel absurd, that I visit the sleep clinic, because surely they would know how to deal with my stress and insomnia.
I went to the famed Sleep Clinic after waiting several weeks for an appointment, where I was interviewed by some resident fellow who clearly had no interest in me and wasn’t listening to what I was saying. She repeatedly failed to make logical connections and remember things I had said only moments before. Seeing me get frustrated, she called in her supervisor, who had me repeat myself yet again. At one point, they left the room to confer on my situation, and then re-entered to tell me my diagnosis. “Stress-induced insomnia.”
No shit. They ordered a full suite of tests, but then admitted that they didn’t have any available appointments in which to conduct those tests for another three months (I’m not exaggerating). To tide me over until then, they handed me a sheet on “stress-relief techniques” and suggested maybe I sign up for one of their experiments.
It gets worse. But I won’t go on, because I would have to call up all sorts of bad feelings in order to do so. What prevented me from falling off a cliff, in fact, was my mother, who just happens to be a trained psychotherapist. She was horrified by the swiss-cheese treatment I was getting from Stanford’s mental health institutions and intervened to have me speak over the phone with a trusted colleague of hers from back home. The first thing he did was prescribe me a truck load of sleeping pills to remove the increased anxiety Vaden had induced by telling me they would cut me off, even though I had not gotten better.
The experience of insomnia was traumatic for me, and the ensuing wrestle with Stanford’s mental health system was in some ways more destabilizing for me.
If Stanford were to ask me how to improve the psychological well-being of students here on campus, I would have a lot to say. To my relief, Stanford is trying to listen. To my dismay, they’ve not designed the system to make sure students’ voices will be heard.
P.S. Professor Diamond’s e-mail moved me to respond to the survey when I had previously deemed myself too busy, and is an excellent example of why he deserves every bit of the award he will be receiving from the ASSU. Check it out:
Dear Students,
I think you got this message from Vice Provost Greg Boardman a couple of days ago. I
know you get too much email, are asked to do too many surveys, it is too late in the
quarter, and it is just too beautiful outside. But this one really matters.
We have had five Stanford students die this year in circumstances that may have been
suicides (almost certainly were in at least some cases). Every year I have students
wrestling with depression. Every year, the stress levels on campus seem to mount. I am
seriously worried that there is too much of it, and that we are not doing enough to
relieve it, to manage it, even to notice it.
I have given a significant chunk of my time to this mental health task force this year,
and we can’t complete our work without your input. If you could go to the link below and
take 15 minutes to do the survey, I would personally be VERY grateful. (please encourage
your friends to do it, too).
Of course, if there is anything you want to share with me directly on these issues, I
want to hear it.
Larry Diamond


4 Responses to “When a Mental Health Survey Makes You More Fucked Up”

  1. Anlam K says:

    “We have had five Stanford students die this year in circumstances that may have been
    suicides (almost certainly were in at least some cases)”
    Why aren’t vigils/memorials held for these students? Why don’t we know anything about these?
    It seems as if Stanford is too eager to cover up suicidies, while Hennessy brags about student happiness to profros in MemAud.

  2. blah blah blog says:

    actually, it sounds like you were already pretty fucked up if you’re wasting your time (and ours) blogging about this. we all have lots of work, the survey wasn’t mandatory, who cares if we lost your precious little answers? not me.

  3. Galen says:

    thanks for sharing!

  4. masaru says:

    about not hearing about suicides, i think it tends to be more that the families don’t want it publicized


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