Why mental health is a problem at Princeton: Perspective of a schizophrenic| Mar 4, 2018
A month ago at eight in the morning, I was in my dorm room on the phone, trying to set up an appointment to get my anti-psychotic medication. The person on the line figured I needed immediate help. Two Public Safety officers barged into my room, assaulted me, pinned me down to my bed, handcuffed me, and dragged me out to the ambulance waiting outside my dorm building. My hands were bleeding. My mind was in shock.
This is how Princeton treats students with mental disability. This is why mental health is a problem.
Paranoia, delusions, depression, repressive anxiety, mania, psychosis, hallucinations, and a million sights and sounds poking inside my head — that’s what it is like to live with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
During my time at Princeton, I have been taken to the emergency room more times than I can recall, been an inpatient at a mental institution, and been on a partial hospitalization plan. I know more people in the psych ward than I know at Princeton, and it’s comforting in a way because at least people there understand. They don’t succumb to deliberate silence, try to slide the glaring problem under the rug, or work towards removing me from the University.
The administration needs to work towards providing the resources necessary to help students with mental illness cope with their disabilities, not pushing them towards withdrawing from the University. Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) not only from overbooking and understaffing, but is entirely incapable of providing treatment when it comes to mental disorders. There are not enough psychiatrists; rather, students are forced to seek off-campus resources in order to get treatment.
I was admitted at the University Health Center in December and stayed there for about a week. During my stay at McCosh, I wasn’t provided any medication but had cursory meetings with therapists rather than with a psychiatrist, who could have diagnosed me and prescribed medication. No treatment plan was communicated to me, even after one of my professors took me to McCosh and spoke with CPS Director Dr. Calvin R. Chin to transfer me to Princeton House inpatient so that I could be treated rightfully. This was not followed through, I was neglected, and my needs were disregarded throughout the entirety of my stay (medication was not delivered in a timely manner and they wouldn’t let me leave McCosh to get food).
“You should take time off,” “Why are you at Princeton?” and “Mental health is not an extenuating circumstance,” are just some of the discriminatory remarks from members of the administration. On Dec. 11, 2017, I had a meeting with Dean of Undergraduate Students Katherine Deignan to explain to her my schizoaffective disorder. During this conversation, I told her about my mental health history, my diagnosis, my previous inpatient stays, my medication requirement, and the fact that I didn’t know who to contact in order to report and get help for my disability. Dean Deignan responded by saying that if you have a disability that prevents you from being a normal student, then you shouldn’t be at Princeton.
Completely shocked, I immediately left the building and called Public Safety to report the incident. However, after discussing with the staff, the P-Safe officer told me that Public Safety dealt with criminal law rather than civil rights. After the meeting, I was taken back to University Health Services.
I missed my fall examinations due to hospitalization, and one day following my discharge I had a meeting with the head of my residential college. The administration insisted that I take my exams the upcoming week. I argued that given my recent discharge, I would like five to seven days to recoup my health prior to taking exams. The daily six to seven hour time commitment of the partial hospitalization program and the intense workload of the given courses would be impossible for me to manage given the temporal proximity of the exams. Dr. Jonathan Pastor, a University medical professional, and my psychiatrist agreed with the assessment that I wasn’t mentally equipped to take the exams immediately.
The administration is fully informed about my mental health condition and multiple hospitalizations. They are aware of my diagnoses following discharge. They are aware that I have to attend the Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). Yet for some reason, they fail to understand. Take the exams now, or you take the other option: a leave of absence.
The University’s ultimate solution to all mental health problems: an involuntary leave of absence.
My mental illness is a chronic disability that I have to live with for the rest of my life. Still better than to live as a Princeton University student, right? It is unjust that an institution forces me to take time off and prevents me from pursuing my academic interests because of a disability that is out of my control. I realize that there might be concerns relating to whether I am equipped to deal with the excessive pressure, which is precisely why I requested some time in a way that doesn’t involve the dissociation of me as a student. I have managed my mental health in the past, and I will continue to manage it in the future, but it is unfair that I be forced to put my academics at a halt because of a preexisting condition. I have the right to pursue my education, as does every student at Princeton, disabled or not.
I have tried reaching out to Institutional Equity, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, and even the Office of the President, none of which have reciprocated in a meaningful way. This just goes to show that the stigma associated with mental health remains prevalent, and for obvious reasons: if one exposes their struggle with a mental disorder that can jeopardize their status as a student, and if they do not then they suffer in silence. The fact is that mental health is still not normalized, because our culture refuses to accept people who deflect from society’s rigid compartmentalization. And as long as Princeton doesn’t accept it, the University won’t be able to make radical changes. In the meantime, it is people like me who suffer.
Three years ago, during my college interview, I was asked, “Why Princeton?” I spoke of people, of opportunities, of freedom, of future. But really I just needed an escape from the oppression, extremism, and terrorism I had lived in all my life. Little did I realize that I was leaving a toxic environment to enter into one even worse.
So now, three years later, it is my turn to ask, Why, Princeton? Why do you neglect my mental health?
The author of this column was granted anonymity due to the intensely personal nature of the events described.
This letter reflects an account of the author’s private meetings with U. administration.
The ‘Prince’ cannot verify any of the allegations of what occurred in these meetings.