Exploring the support services at Vancouver Island University
I’m going to go through the process of trying to get help through the centre for students with disabilities. Let’s see what kind of support is available for those with mental health issues in BC and how it compares with my experience in Ontario in 2009/10/11.
I approached the desk and said: “I’m a student with a disability and I’d like to see what kinds of support is available to me throughout the year, and how I can get involved to help support others if I can.”
This is a big step for me, that I step forward and say I need help, or rather, that I tried to manage on my own last year but that was a bad idea. That i had a mental breakdown or two, and could have used some support.
I didn’t say that to the lady at the desk though, I just waited, anxious.
Hers was one of, what I, perhaps sensitively, interpreted as scepticism. I didn’t know “the rules” apparently, is what her response indicated to me.
Not a word about what I had asked, but in fact she asked for formal proof of my disability.
Well I had that in my email, I said, and whipped my smartphone out to pull it up to send it to her to print, quickly and confidently. Yes! I am “officially” fucked up! Here’s a letter from my psychologist from a few years ago stating as much. Anxiety. Bipolar. Enough to significantly affect and disrupt myself and my studies.
She eyed it, and still without addressing my question or needs or general outreach for help, stated that it might not be enough. Um. What?
Oh, they need specifics. What does my psychologist recommend, practically speaking, that can address specific needs. Without those specific needs and outline of a plan, that I am supposed to bring, then they can’t help me.
Well I said, my disability has a lot to do with managing potentialities, rather than providing a quick one-stop fix for a concrete, ever present need. If I know I have supports in place in case of a crisis, then I am less likely to actually have a crisis. So, what is available in terms of support for people with anxiety and mental disorders?
She doubts they’d be able to accommodate me unless I can give specific examples of what I need. Such as, blah blah blah. I said, can I have a list of the blah blah blah? That’s really what I’m here to inquire about. So, I have to tell the support services what kind of support I need? That works well for someone in a wheelchair who needs a ramp, or who has a learning disability and needs extra time on exams, but what about for people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? What about for people for whom stress doesn’t always, but sometimes causes suicidal ideation? Can I get a no-questions-asked pass out of class, without damaging my participation grade, if I’m unable to get out of bed for depression dealing with the heavy subject matter I’m studying?
I feel too uncomfortable to ask her. She’s making me feel like a scammer. I’m articulate and well-put-together, so it must seem like I’m not actually in that much need of help.
That’s the sense I get when I finally get the nerve up to see what support is available to me throughout the year. I have an appointment to talk with the coordinator, as there are no registered psychologists in their department who can advise about the needs of those with mental disabilities.
This is inadequate for my needs. I can imagine my old, meek, angry self dropping out over this, feeling unwelcome and eyed with suspicion and given lip service from a service desk that fulfils some, but not all, of the responsibilities to those they claim to exist to help.
Seriously though, I’m not too surprised.