College counseling centers across the country are seeing a greater demand for mental health services. In this series, WBFO’s Nick Lippa reports the issues students and some Western New York colleges are addressing on campus. For Emily Tout, a current UB student in grad school completing a dual degree in social work and law, seeing a counselor saved her life.
There are hundreds of statistics you will come across describing the mental health challenges students bare. One in four students have a diagnosable illness. 40% of them do not seek help. But you start to realize what’s at stake when you put a face to the numbers.
“My ex, he has a lot of issues. The last thing he said to me was that when I get out of prison I’m going to kill you,” said recent domestic violence survivor Emily Tout.
Tout was finishing her last year of undergrad when she started the process of exiting an abusive relationship.
“After I left him I found out that I needed brain surgery from the head trauma that I had,” she said.
Tout’s first priority was keeping her son safe and healthy, but after that she described herself as a disaster just trying to look ok for him.
“I was extremely depressed. I struggled a lot with PTSD, suicidal ideations, self-harm. It was all this big disaster essentially. But (my therapist) helped me stay on track towards the end of it. After my surgery I became paralyzed below the waist,” Tout said. “(My therapist) was with me through that. He helped me get through all of that.”
She had to come back from brain and spine surgery to finish the semester if she wanted to graduate on time. And she did with the help of an on campus counselor.
“I started to go because one of my professors actually suggested it,” Tout said. “I had no idea what domestic violence was until I had fingerprint bruises around my neck one day. I was wearing a scarf and it got loose. One of my professors, who is actually my friend, saw them and I said my son hit me or something and she’s like, ‘Oh you tell me that excuse every time you have bruises.’ So it took somebody calling me out on it for me to leave. Sometimes that’s what it takes, but also, don’t push somebody that is in an abusive relationship to leave because if they’re not ready, it could make it lethal for them. It’s a very fine line, but the most important thing is as soon as you’re ready, finding a way to safely leave.”
Her professor did more than just call her out.
“She gave me the resources and told me she’d come with me to the first appointment if I wanted her to and was just super supportive,” Tout said. “Having that backup support pushed me to go and make that decision to do on campus counseling.”
Like many campuses, UB works with their faculty to make sure they can recognize the signs and symptoms of somebody having some type of emotional distress. UB Counseling Services Director Sharon Mitchell said they make sure faculty know where to direct students in need.
“So when someone’s concerned about somebody but they’re not sure, like should I be concerned or if I am what should I say, they can actually call us and we will listen to what they have to say to get a sense of like, this is something urgent and something needs to be done right now, or here’s what you could say or if you want to walk the student over you can do that too,” Mitchell said.
Tout at the time was a full time student, teaching assistant, and writing an undergraduate thesis while being a single Mom needing surgery.
“I didn’t do as great as I did the first three and a half years,” she laughed. “I think anytime you’re ending a program that you are in college is stressful enough. So with everything else being thrown around and me struggling with my mental health so intensely, it added a lot to the whole situation where it felt unbearable.”
Before college, Tout struggled with depression and anxiety, starting antidepressant medication at the age of 12 years. Talk therapy didn’t do much for her when she was younger, but she said the experience at UB was much more effective, even though it was only four months.
“My first experience with on campus counseling, I didn’t connect with the counselor very well. It was a personality thing. I was really frustrated by it and ended up switching to somebody different,” she said. “I switched to a male counselor because I told them I was interested in attending one of their trauma group therapies. I wasn’t sure how I felt with a male counselor. He was so helpful. So incredible. Caring. He was very effective in what he did. He’s the best counselor therapist I’ve ever seen.”
Her counselor knew she was suicidal and would keep in touch throughout the week.
“He was always making sure that he could do everything he could to make me safe and help me be in the best spot possible so that I could finish my undergraduate successfully and on my timeframe that I had expected,” she said.
Tout will soon have a third brain surgery, but that’s not stopping her from working towards a dual grad degree.
“It’s what my life is right now and I’ve learned that that’s ok. And honestly he helped me learn that,” she said.
Now Tout sees other classmates in her social work major who she thinks could use the help, but often won’t go for it.
“I’ve watched some tough stuff happen. I’ve had friends complete suicide and they had never reached out for professional help. And it’s really hard to watch because I know how effective getting help can be. But there is so much stigma where even as a social worker it’s hard to admit that you need mental health help,” she said. “Even still when I have a new therapist, so when I go there, I always have my social worker hat on. It’s hard taking that off to get help for yourself.”
With Domestic violence situations, victims are separated with survivors and high risk teams in Erie County. On high risk teams, if there potential danger stemming from an abusive partner, extra services are provided to help with safety. Tout was on the high risk team and it was the combination of that and UB’s services that got her to where she is today.
“I was being stalked every day. I was always concerned that he was in and out of jail three times before he got sentenced to prison. I was always on edge. I had to look behind my back for everything. I had to go above and beyond to make sure my son was safe wherever we went. There was so much chaos going on. And having him as kind of my rock behind me, I don’t think I would have been able to get through it without that support,” Tout said. “So in a sense, having that opportunity to go to counseling on campus saved my life.”
Tout’s dream is to be a prosecutor in the integrated domestic violence court in Erie County after she graduates. That’s a possibility made real because of a walk to UB’s counseling services.