Aidan Coleman

Sometimes there is a mismatch between an on-campus mental health advisor and a needy student.

Aidan Coleman, a former University of Mary Washington student and CAPS patient
-Courtesy of Aidan Coleman

That’s what Aidan Coleman, who attended the University of Mary Washington as a freshman in the 2011- 2012 school year, said she encountered. Coleman was diagnosed with obsessive- compulsive disorder. It manifested itself in her constant fear of leaving things on, inability to sleep with the door open or without looking under the bed, constantly checking her mirrors and the back of the car while driving, and her compulsion to smoke cigarettes. From sixth to ninth grade, Coleman needed her mother to wash her hair because her OCD prevented her from doing it herself.

Due to Coleman’s social anxiety, she had trouble coming forward with her problems; she had a fear of being judged. Her younger brother by three years Ian was autistic, so all of her parent’s attention went to him, she said. She felt she had to be healthy to relieve her parents of having to worry about her. Her depression was created due to her inability to find a way of coping with her OCD. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do certain things,” she said. “I literally just wanted to crawl into a corner and die.”

At age 16, Coleman began to notice the symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as Hashimoto’s disease, which is a thyroid problem that can cause depression, mania, and panic attacks. It took a year for her to be properly diagnosed because her family doctor refused to give her a blood test until she turned 17, and due to insurance she had to wait. Then, three months ago, Coleman was diagnosed with social anxiety, depression and OCD. The combination of mood disorders and Hashimoto’s disease caused the effects of the disorders to worsen.

As a freshman at UMW in 2011, she was very depressed. She decided to try counseling with Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, because of constant recommendations over time from different boyfriends. Her first session was at the end of her first semester, right before finals. But Coleman felt her counselor wasn’t receptive at all and didn’t listen to her. “It had a negative effect on me,” said Coleman. “I ended up distraught; the person who was supposed to help, didn’t seem to care at all.” Her parents encouraged her to try again, so she went back the next semester about three to four times. Although she went in giving her counselor the benefit of the doubt, she still did not enjoy the experience and ultimately stopped going.

Aidan Coleman and her brother, Ian Coleman
-Courtesy of Aidan Coleman

CAPS wouldn’t discuss specific student cases and emphasizes the importance of a good relationship between a counselor and a student. In a situation like Coleman’s, CAPS counselor Larissa Ruuskanen recommends either discussing your issues with your counselor, or asking to be matched up with another one who better fits your needs. “If a student feels the focus of therapy is not where they want it to go, I think it’s really important to let the therapist know,” said Ruuskanen . “It allows them to focus on what the student needs together, which could be very healing for the student.” CAPS is also willing to reassign the student to another counselor who better matches their interpersonal styles.

Coleman now attends Thomas Nelson Community College and is seeing a therapist in her hometown at Clinical Associates of Tidewater. She has also started medication for her anxiety and OCD and has seen helpful results.

By Mackenzie Carson