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Imagine being afraid of spiders, and being forced to walk through a room full of them in order to receive medical treatment.
For some people, especially those with anxiety, that isn’t just a scene from a nightmare. Many people in this generation struggle greatly with making phone calls, and greatly prefer the ability to do things digitally. Yet, people at Colorado State University must call or go in-person to access mental health care. It is the only type of appointment that cannot be made online at the CSU Health Network.
For people with ‘telephone-phobia,’ the act of picking up a phone and making a call takes a Herculean effort. A study in “Cybertechnology and Behavior” found that those who self-identified as having anxiety overwhelmingly preferred text-based communication over phone calls. This is a very common symptom of anxiety, especially social anxiety, that a psychologist from ‘Psychology Today’ identified as a social phobia.
Despite this, the CSU Health Network requires students making an appointment for psychiatric purposes to call or come in person. While a patient can schedule an appointment for any other condition online, for mental health a student has to call. Furthermore, while CSU offers great amounts of group resources, the Health Network website specifies that to be enrolled in a group, a student must call.
Not only is this not fair, it doesn’t make sense. This is specifically targeting mental health struggles and making it harder for people to access care.
I have anxiety. I came to CSU for my master’s degree, and in my undergraduate career I always made my appointments to refill anxiety medications or to see a counselor online. While I know many people who have much stronger aversions to using the phone than I have, I hate having to call to make appointments.
Neurotypical people often underestimate just how difficult it can be for someone struggling with their mental health to ask for help. Going to counseling for the first time often takes a huge amount of effort and willpower, as well as a substantial amount of courage. And something frightening that is standing in the way of asking for help may be the difference between a person accessing care or not.
Some psychologists identify the anxiety around phone use as a phobia. Anyone with an irrational fear will know how difficult it is to face them. For example, I am absolutely terrified of moths. If I had to walk through a room of moths in order to access counseling for my anxiety, I would never have asked for help.
Asking someone with ‘telephone phobia’ to make a phone call to access medical care would be like forcing an apiphobe to walk through a room full of bees to access medical care. It’s wrong, and the university should address it.
In addition to being a barrier to care, it also separates mental health care from physical health care. Both are forms of self-care and they are equally important to look after. By separating them like this, the CSU Health Network is putting up a subtle distinction between the two, which does nothing to help reduce the stigma against mental health care.
Counseling is clearly a necessary service for the student population at CSU – 18% of CSU students use counseling already. The university has made a point to say that meeting mental health needs among its student body is important. Why, then, has no one thought to make appointments online?
Extreme anxiety about using the phone is a well-documented phenomenon, especially among millennials. Many psychiatrists have spoken out about the issue to the media, explaining the terror that comes with making phone calls as a symptom of anxiety. Nerves about talking on the phone is also just a common theme with this generation, and generally speaking we are much more comfortable with online or text-based communication as opposed to phone calls.
When I first came to CSU, I actually ran out of anxiety medications while I was trying to figure out a way to schedule an appointment with a psychologist via the website, until I was forced to accept that there just wasn’t a way to do it without either going in person or calling. I went in-person. But, for people with social anxiety, neither of those options would be at all useful.
CSU has made a point to say they prioritize student’s mental health. Now, they should really show it by making mental health care more easily accessible to those they serve.
Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org