It is always valuable to have your profession viewed from an outside perspective. What follows is a view from within the profession of how I would hope to respond and think if a student asked me for an extension on a paper, informing me that his or her anxiety and depression had been acting up and making it difficult to concentrate on his or her work:
I'm really sorry to hear that. I'm glad you feel comfortable sharing that with me. I want to respect your privacy, so you certainly don't need to share any personal details, but may I ask how you are doing? Please know that I will keep this between us unless there is some kind of emergency.
Are you finding the support that you need from your friends and family? What can Luther, and more specifically, what can I do to help as your professor? I can't be your therapist, but I want to do anything I can to support that process.
Are you working with a professional that you feel understands your experiences and is helping you to live a valued life? If not, can I help you with a referral?
Anxiety and depression are becoming more common on college campuses. We have solid science to back this up, including annual surveys conducted by counseling centers across the country. In fact, Luther participates in such research.
I want to make sure you have a good counselor. An accurate diagnosis is a major component in designing an effective treatment plan. I have conducted more than 1,000 psychological evaluations and hundreds of hours of individual therapy. I have been through five revisions of the DSM, the so-called "bible" of my profession. It is far from perfect, but I want to make sure that you have a counselor that takes into consideration the various reliabilities and validities of the diagnostic categories and the quality of the science behind associated treatments versus Dr. Phil, drug commercials, historical anecdotes, etc. No classification system is probably perfect. Medicine has its FUOs (Fevers of Unknown Origins) and ornithology has its LBBs (Little Brown Birds). I imagine that in all fields, there will always be a struggle between nefarious forces like commercialization and politicization versus the advancement of a compassionate science, but your counselor should be able to sort through these competing influences and bypass any agendas, personal or professional. It is my job to realize that what cured my fever may not work for you and that I need to own the origins of my fevers. My guess is that even the "real" Bible has its inconsistencies and prejudices and that some people try to manipulate the wisdom in that book. Honestly, I can't say that with authority, because that's not my area of scholarly teaching, practice and research. So, I'm going to leave fevers, birds and gods to those experts. All I know is what I know and I try really hard not to be certain of that.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that life can certainly seem confusing at times with misinformation, counterintuitive principles, unintended consequences, and the like. Anxiety and depression can take so many forms and while there is clearly value in learning from painful experiences, there is no wisdom in suffering needlessly. I've had patients with significant depression not engage in basic hygiene for weeks and I've had patients with significant depression present with a smiley face and meticulous grooming. All were hurting underneath and it was affecting their lives. I have seen patients wanting a diagnosis when one wasn't warranted and I have had patients discount diagnosable suffering for decades. In all cases, regardless of whether a diagnosis is warranted or not, it is our responsibility to promote their autonomy working from their perceptions of their conditions, regardless of how ultimately valid that might be. We meet them where they are. While it is easy to cherry pick the semantics of specific criteria to build a case or a generalization one way or another in some feverish manner, the most important criterion for any diagnosis is if the symptoms, however they are presented, even if they wax and wane at times, are interfering with you having a successful life. I'm pretty sure we could find unethical scientists and practitioners in any field, but that's not a valid indictment of a profession and discounts extensive positive contributions that likely far outweigh the proverbial bad apples. I would never encourage you to stop voting just because our political system has some corrupt elements. Let me help you participate in life. A helping professional never risks stigmatizing human suffering in any way.
And, probably just like in class, your old professor is rambling a bit, but I want you to know that a successful life is what I want for you and that I and many other people on this campus take your pain seriously and want to help. My office door is always open.
Unless it's closed, I guess, but then email me. Do you mind if I email you in a week or so to see how you're doing?
Thank you for stopping by and sharing.
Take good care of yourself.