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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Tai

Interview: Emily Lin on her College Mental Health & Counseling Experience

What is mental health counseling actually like in college?

With a new school year begins the first chapter of college life for many university freshmen around the world. While this journey into adulthood carries great excitement with the new friendships and experiences that await us, the adjustment into the many unfamiliarities of college life can also be daunting at times. Finding the right resources during the highs and lows of this new life chapter can be critical to making sure those exciting moments aren’t missed out on!


In this interview with UC Berkeley’s Emily Lin, we discuss what its like seeking mental health resources on college campus, the room for improvement for mental health awareness in college, and some tips college freshmen can look out for in this new journey into higher education.


Tell me a little bit about yourself!


My name is Emily Lin, I’m a second-year majoring in economics and political science at UC Berkeley. I love reading and creative writing, and I’m also passionate about gender equality and mental health, which is why I’m here today!


What has been your relationship with your mental health throughout your life so far?


I have to say that my mental health wasn’t very good when I was younger. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a lot of responsibilities, and that kind of forced me to be more mature than most kids my age. And so when I entered my pre-teens, around 12-14, I began falling into a very dark place, but the environment I grew up in and my family didn’t really recognize the importance of mental health, like teaching your kid to practice self-care and to look out for mental illnesses.


But growing up, I’d watch TV, I have a phone, and I read, and so I came to realize that taking care of your mental health is equally as important as taking care of your physical health. I began trying to take better care of myself in high school, but things ended up being equally as bad because of the stress and my social anxiety. I think of that as the root of all my personal problems, and also the reason why I didn’t care to seek out for mental health help.

Into college, I think being away from home was hard on me too. It’s like losing a support system. But on the more positive side, it’s moving to a new environment, so it's actually easier to find a new self-care plan and to forget your past experiences.


Did you have any experience seeking mental health resources during high school or earlier?

I didn’t seek help. Also because there was no help at our high school. I don’t even know the name of the school counselor, I’ve never even seen him.

I think it also had to do with shame. Sometimes I still feel like reaching out for mental health help is seeking attention. I feel like a spoiled brat whenever I try to speak up.

The one time I tried to get help, I tried talking to my teacher, I actually told her that I was getting sexually harassed. She basically responded with a “meh, suck it up, guys are like that.” So it was bad, really bad. I ended up showing her -- because I’m kinda immature, I admit -- 13 Reasons Why, like “look at this TV series, do you want us to die?!” She just said “oh, I mean, it’s TV, why are you being so dramatic?” and that really hurt me.


(Editor’s note: For more about Fuhsing’s mental health resources, please check out this link for more information on counseling and online counseling reservations.)


What made you decide to seek out for mental health resources on campus?


I think what made me decide to seek out for resources was the way they (UC Berkeley) publicized and advertised accessible mental health resources. I feel like in the US, especially in college, they’re scared that you might do something to hurt yourself because you’re away from home with no one to really keep an eye on you. So as soon as I came to college, they sent me a bunch of emails on where you can go, where you can get help and all that. Our school’s health system is also very well-equipped with mental health resources on their webpage and newsletters. So I feel like that was what made me that made me reach out. And also, it’s free!


Who did you reach out to? What was the process for reaching out?


I went on the UC Berkeley website and saw a drop-in link for this 30 minute quick chat with a therapist, and next thing you know, I was in a waiting room on zoom. I didn’t have to put my name or anything. It felt safe in that no one would know that I am reaching out for help.

During the session, she didn’t ask any specifics about me or my grades. She just asked what I wanted to talk about. Close to the end of the session, she also mentioned how this is a one-time drop-in link, so she might not be there the next time I sign in for a meeting. So it felt really private and didn’t take much commitment, because most likely she’ll forget whatever I said and I didn’t really have to leave my contact info or schedule another appointment.


Did you have any initial fears in reaching out, or fears you think other people have?


I felt like my fear was that she’s gonna tell me to go home and drink some tea haha. I know that they’re trained to help people, but sometimes the most ignorant people are therapists. So that was my fear. I just didn’t want to get hurt again.

But my fears were definitely resolved, partly, I think, because I got lucky. I met a really kind old lady, and she was East Asian as well, so I was able to talk about some family problems which I felt she understood and empathized with.


(Editor’s note: Finding the right therapist/resource can be a frustrating trial-and-error process at times, but it truly pays out in the end. Don’t be discouraged!)


What actually goes on during counseling sessions?


The counseling session I was in was super short. It was intended to be like that, and I liked it because I didn’t really want to talk about my whole life story. I just wanted to get over what I was dealing with then.


At the time, my family was going through a lot so I had a lot to take care of. I had no mom. My grandpa was sick. And I was at college, and just got a really bad test score, and I just felt like everything was snowballing, like everyone is going to hate me and that just I’m going to die. But she taught me how to counter these bad events when they happen, like your brain has a plasma to fight away the negativity instead of letting it accumulate. See! I still remember what she told me, that was really helpful! So yeah, she taught me how to solve similar problems in the future, which was really helpful because you can save a person once, but you can’t guarantee they’ll always be okay.


From your experience, how would you describe your college’s approach in terms of students’ mental health needs? What more needs to be done?


I think my school is doing okay with mental health resources. I do know that it’s hard to schedule campus counseling sessions. A lot of people want to do it, but they don’t have the time because they might have class during the counselors’ office hours. I just happened to be able to schedule a drop-in meeting. Maybe I was just lucky.


Plus, I am one of those few people that actually read the college newsletters, which was also where I found a lot of Berkeley’s mental health resources. But I know a lot of people just delete college newsletters, most people don’t read them, so I think colleges should just broadcast, for example, the open hours for counseling sessions.


Do these resources cater to the unique needs of students of different demographics?

I would say yes. On the mental health resources page on the website, they actually categorize who students can find for specific needs. For example, I looked for people who understand East Asian families. I don’t think it was that I needed to talk to someone who looked like me, but it might be easier if they have the same background. There are also specific resources for student athletes, and therapists specialized in students of specific religions, multi-raciality, etcetera.


What is your self care plan or strategy, routine, now that you’re in college?


I keep saying self care, self care plan, but I have to admit, I’m not good at it, I’m still trying to do better. The good thing is that in college, you’re forced to find other methods of keeping in touch with friends, and its easier to talk to someone on the phone than it is to talk to someone in person. I ended up sharing so much with my high school best friend only when we moved to college, so yeah. My way of self-care is to chat, with everyone, to connect with the outside world or else I’d drown. It feels better once you open up about your feelings.


What is your advice for incoming freshmen thinking to reach out for help?


First of all, its free! But mainly, I would advise people going to college this year to let go of whatever bad experiences you’ve have, and just try to embrace college mental health whether it be counseling or just the way you take care of yourself. Yes, remember to take care of yourself! Because reaching out for help opens you up to a lot of other resources, and hopefully you’ll be able to find the ones that fit you the best. On a last note, seeking help isn’t seeking attention!


(Editor’s note: Others’ struggles don’t invalidate yours!)

 

Everybody’s mental health journey is a story of its own. While Emily’s story might not be able to represent the mental health journey of others, we hope it can serve as a starting point to inspire those struggling to take that first step to reaching out for support!

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