Letter to the editor: After experiencing mental health challenges, a student writes about their decision to leave Linfield

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Zack Robie

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Editor’s Note: This letter is from one student’s perspective and has not been further investigated by The Linfield Review. It contains potentially triggering content about suicide. This story was updated on April 27, 2021, to correctly reflect the title of a person mentioned.

I do not know how to start this letter. Emotionally, physically, logically, I have no idea where to begin. What happened to me at Linfield University in the fall of 2020 was an astronomical injustice to mentally ill students across campus, and the fact that now everything is painted as “fine” makes it all the more sickening. 

My heart is heavy remembering my ordeal, and those who know me closely will remember just how much more depressed and unhappy the administration’s actions made me back then. When I was at my worst—the lowest point in my adult life—Linfield threw me away like garbage, and treated me as though having depression made me diseased. 

I was contagious, something infectious, needing immediate containment. No matter the consequences. 

My name is Zack Robie. I am 20 years old, a sophomore student majoring in creative writing, and I am withdrawing from Linfield University at the end of the spring semester. I am leaving for so many reasons; there’s the sexual misconduct, major Board of Trustees issues, the myriad of blemishes on Linfield’s name… but the biggest reason I am leaving is the ableist actions of our institution. 

At first, there were the little things. As a transgender student, I was practically barred from gender-inclusive housing because I needed accessible housing too, and we only have one fully accessible building. 

Whatever, I thought. Living with the girls isn’t too bad. 

I didn’t have a roommate for my two years at Linfield, and was somewhat isolated by that fact. No biggie, I could branch out in other ways. 

What broke my back happened in the middle of fall 2020. Having suffered from chronic depression my whole life, I am no stranger to suicidal ideation. We are old friends, in fact. 

Covid hit me hard, the same way it hit many students across the globe. 20% of students in America reported their mental health significantly worsened that year. Eight out of ten reported increased struggles with focus, school, work, and maintaining routines of any kind.

The things that make depression manageable for most—routine, friendly contact, time outside—became practically impossible with the onset of the pandemic. And if, like me, you struggled to keep up with your mental health even without a worldwide health crisis, Linfield was harsh and unforgiving. 

In September, I almost lost the fight against suicide. Had I not gotten scared, felt that rush of panic and anxiety coarse through my veins after I took the pills, I wouldn’t have called anyone. I would be dead. 

But I did get scared, I did call a friend who was on the ResLife staff, and I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. After a tube of charcoal, a hand IV, and four days in the psych ward of Willamette Valley Medical Center, with my father and a mental health practitioner by my side, I got a call from Linfield health administration. Four days.

What are your plans for keeping yourself safe if you were to return to campus? she asked me. Well, I replied, feeling well-prepared. When you’re admitted to the psych ward, you make a safety plan and a big list of every resource you can think of. I had my list, my plan… I was ready. I have my friends and my family, and I need to be better about communicating to them when I feel depressed, let alone suicidal. I have therapy now, and my psychiatrist. I’m going to change my meds, and just try harder, I guess.

What came next was a shock I will never forget. Not only was I told not to return to campus, I was told that I was “a burden on the Linfield community” because of my attempt, and because of my depression. 

I was told to return when I was “all better.” If you have depression, you know: there is no all better. Depression isn’t a contagious disease. 

I could kind of understand the point of the message; Linfield didn’t have adequate resources to deal with a mentally ill student like me. But how was that my fault? (Trick question: it wasn’t.)

 Patricia Haddeland’s comments to me were so inappropriately harsh that the mental health practitioner with me commented on it, asking if I was okay and noticing my tears. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. 

A prominent university not having the resources to deal with mental illness is no longer acceptable in today’s modern arena. Suicide is the second leading cause of death amoung young adults in the U.S. Approximately 1,100 of us die from suicide each year. Thirty-nine percent of college students experience a significant mental health issue while in school, and one-fifth of adults have a diagnosable mental illness. 

Thinking about that number, I am reminded that at least two-thirds of my friends on campus have confided in me about mental illness, depression, anxiety, and even the big bad word here at Linfield: suicidal ideation. 

Sixty-seven percent of those aged 18-24 with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety do not seek help for their illnesses, including any kind of mental health treatment (like therapy or medication). I did both before my attempt, and continued both after my attempt. 

Fifty percent of people will experience a mental health crisis in their lifetime, and I was being punished for mine. I was being called a burden, a liability, something that needed to go away fast

Depression cannot be cured, but I began my search for relief at Linfield my freshman year. Haddeland prescribed me Zoloft, which, when its side effects (including stomach issues, persistent headaches, and debilitating sexual side effects which impacted my self-esteem) persisted, told me to deal with the side effects and focus on curing the depression. 

After that, I was put on Effexor, an SNRI which felt like heroin leaving my system when I got off it. I was fortunate enough to be able to switch to a private psychiatrist and therapist, both of whom I pay out of pocket for their services despite having insurance. That’s just how it is in America. Thank god I am not at or below the poverty line, or I really might be dead. 

I pay over $200 for my three medications now, in addition to my mental health services, and having paid back the $2,000+ medical bills from my time in the hospital. Clearly, I was and am trying my best because I am fortunate enough to be able to do so. 

Linfield mishandled this situation. They insulted me, and refused to help me or admit they were just unable to (which is on their heads, not mine). When contacting my emergency contacts, only one was called, and left a message that I was in the hospital. 

Only my mother was called, not my father or my fiance, both of whom are on my emergency contact list. If it were not for the friends who called the ambulance for me, my fiance would not have known or heard from me for nearly a week. 

Never before have I been embarrassed of my mental illness before. I no longer communicate with professors of friends about my struggles; I make excuses, miss classes, miss opportunities. I am ashamed of myself, but I know deep down that I shouldn’t be. 

Linfield should be ashamed. Ashamed of how nobody has yet to check on me since my return for the spring semester, ashamed that they didn’t contact everyone they should have, ashamed of the stigma they placed upon my shoulders, ashamed for insulting a suicidal student who was at their lowest. 

If I were Patricia Haddeland or Jeff Mackay or anyone else who was involved, I would wake up each morning ashamed of how I handled the situation, and about the lack of resources for mentally ill students during a global pandemic. 

Please, those of you who read this who do have struggles similar to my own: don’t be ashamed. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and don’t be afraid to tell someone, anyone, if you are struggling. 

You are not a burden. 

We are stronger together than we are apart. I hope this letter is the last account of a student’s suicide attempt that is handled in such an inappropriate manner. I hope none of you ever have to experience the shame, the humiliation, the loneliness… I have never felt more alone in the universe than I have since my attempt, and Linfield’s response to me is the biggest culprit. You are not a burden.