Ever Needed Mental Health Help? Here’s What One College Student Did to Make Sure She Got It.

Meet Valerie.

Earlier this year, Valerie Janovic was halfway through her first year as a student at Skidmore College. She took courses on psychology, Spanish, and philosophy, and she spent her precious free moments between classes singing with a campus a cappella group and composing her own music.

But, like many of us, Valerie was also going through her own personal struggles behind the scenes. She tried to schedule an appointment with Skidmore’s counseling center, but they told her no counselors would be available for another week. So, again like many of us, Valerie tried to push through and handle her stress on her own. But it didn’t go away.

Eventually the stress culminated in a mental breakdown, and Valerie found herself sobbing, shaking and screaming beyond her control. Her breakdown was so severe that campus safety arrived on the scene to help. Following their advice, she called the on-call counselor, who asked if she was suicidal. When Valerie said that she was not, the counselor told her she’d need to make an appointment five to seven days later, and hung up the phone, effectively turning Valerie away.

Valerie felt betrayed by her school and it turned out she wasn’t alone. When she started talking about her experience with friends, she quickly learned that many other students had been turned away by the counseling center during a crisis. One friend, Alex Marello, had also approached campus counselors only to be told that her situation wasn’t urgent enough. In Valerie’s words, she discovered that “pretty much everyone had a story.”

Valerie wanted to make sure no student who reached out for help would be turned away again, so she started a Care2 petition demanding that Skidmore improve its mental health care system. After more than 51,000 Care2 members signed her petition, Valerie held a demonstration on campus and delivered her signatures to Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach. When he saw how many people supported her cause, President Glotzbach agreed to meet with Valerie to discuss her demands. During that meeting, he agreed to make sure that all students in crisis will be able to get the resources they need, when they need it making Valerie’s petition a success.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime. All of us know someone who has suffered through a mental health condition. And access to mental health care is a huge problem in this country, with many services being cut when budgets are tight. Because this is an issue that touches all of us, we wanted to learn more about Valerie’s successful campaign to improve access to mental health care at Skidmore College.

We caught up with her recently to talk more about what it was like to take on her own college, why bullying needs to be nipped in the bud, and what advice she has for other activists who are just getting started.

Feel free to share your appreciation or questions in the comments!

What inspired you to start your petition? What was it like to create it?

I had a situation with the counseling center where I needed help, and I couldn’t get it for over a week. So, I spent a while complaining about it, and then I realized that you shouldn’t complain, you should do something about it. So, I went around and I asked a bunch of my friends and people I knew: “Have you ever had a situation with the counseling center where you couldn’t get help when you needed it?” Pretty much everyone had a story.

So, I worked with my friend Alex and we started the petition together to create a system where people who needed help could get it, because the one they had in place didn’t work. The system they had in place was: If you’re suicidal, you can get help, and if you’re not, you can wait two weeks. And that included panic attacks, mental breakdowns, a death in the family things that really shouldn’t wait two weeks. Those were all on the list of non-emergencies. The only emergencies were if you’re suicidal or having a psychotic break from reality.

Writing a petition was the first step for me in the process of addressing mental health on campus. I thought that first I’d make a petition, and then I’d have something to show when I met with the different levels of the college bureaucracy. If that didn’t work, I’d contact press and have a rally. Those were steps that I felt I needed to follow. Because if I had just started with trying to speak with someone the Dean of Student Affairs or someone – I’d have nothing to show them.

How did you react when you saw how much attention your petition received? How did your friends and family react?

Starting this petition was very empowering and was a very positive process. I didn’t expect it to be as big of a thing as it became.

My family and friends were very proud and very impressed with what was happening, because they recognized that a lot of people had problems, but we were the only ones who were doing something. I was spearheading the movement and that resonated with a lot of people.

My co-petitioner, Alex, was also really happy about it, because she has had her own experiences with panic attacks, and she was really upset with the counseling center’s handling of the situation. So, she was of course really happy when the petition took off. We ended up with more than 51,000 signatures by the time we won our campaign.

What issues are you most passionate about and why?

I am really passionate about mental health because of my own experience with these issues. I’ve had a very supportive environment, and that’s the reason that I’m so sane right now, but I think that it’s important to make sure everyone else gets to have a supportive environment as well.

I’m also passionate about bullying and having people be nice to each other. I think that the stem of racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia all comes from bullying. It starts off with kids just picking on other children and then learning that that’s okay. And it sort of develops into much larger hatred. For example, when you let people make rape jokes, it just validates rapists. And if you nip this kind of behavior in the bud when children are young, by saying, “No, that’s not okay you need to be nice to someone, even if they’re a little different from you,” I think that adults would be a lot nicer.

What advice would you give to a young person or activist who wants to have a positive impact in the world?

I think that you should do it! Just go for it. I think that one of the biggest problems in the world is that a lot of people complain and don’t do anything. If people were more proactive, we’d have a lot fewer problems.

If there’s an issue you care about in your community, start your own petition and watch as the Care2 community rallies around your cause!

87 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
william Miller
william Millerabout a year ago

awesome

SEND
Miriam Site issues

Thank you very much for sharing! Awesome!

SEND
Neville B.
Neville B1 years ago

Congratulations to you and your supporters/group. Never forget what you'll achieved here : )

SEND
Christine J.
Christine J1 years ago

Well done Valerie.

SEND
Emma L.
Past Member 1 years ago

Thank you!

SEND
Lindsay Kemp
Lindsay K1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

SEND
Roman Klevets
roman Klevets1 years ago

thank you for sharing

SEND
ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA S1 years ago

thank you for sharing

SEND
Brett Cloud
Brett Cloud1 years ago

ty

SEND