Bipolar and a baccalaureate

Indiana University of Pennsylvania theater major Kaitlyn P. McGilvray with her graduating class, May 9, 2015.  Photo by Andrew Milliken.

IUP senior theater major Kaitlyn McGilvray, at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania commencement ceremony, Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex, May 9. Photo by Andrew Milliken.

A Civic Project story

By Andrew Milliken

INDIANA — Kaitlyn P. McGilvray was 13 when she was diagnosed as clinically depressed.

Since then, she has seen her diagnosis change to Bipolar II Disorder (aka, manic depression), been prescribed daily anxiety medication and spent roughly the past five years in and out of enrollment at Indiana University of Pennsylvania to get a bachelor’s degree in theater.

She also has been candid about her mental illness.

“I’m very open about everything,” McGilvray, 29, said in an April 27 interview in IUP’s Orendorff Music Library. “I’m interested in ending the stigma and want to get people talking about this.”

Bipolar disorder is characterized by “unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. These shifts lead to alternating states of mania, or elevated energy and irritability, and depression.

“I can feel the synapses in my brain going,” McGilvray said. “On some days it’s impossible to get out of bed. You know you have responsibilities but you just can’t.”

McGilvray said an initial misdiagnosis can have serious consequences. Forty percent of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed, according to a 1999 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“It’s very dangerous for someone with bipolar to be on antidepressants,” McGilvray said. “This can send you into a constant state of mania.”


McGILVRAY IS among more than 8 million Americans affected by bipolar disorders in a given year, according to a 2012 survey by the NIMH. That’s roughly 2.6 percent of the U.S. adult population. She also is one of 43.7 million American adults living with a mental illness.

On college campuses, mental health issues are on the rise, according to the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors (NSCCD) and the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA).

Of 26,685 undergraduate students at 140 campuses surveyed, 6.3 percent of them were diagnosed or treated by a professional for both anxiety and depression, according to the ACHA-NCHA 2008 fall semester survey. In the 2014 spring semester survey, the figure rose to 8.6 percent, an increase of more than one-third over the five-and-a-half-year period.

College campuses generally provide services such as counseling centers and psychologists to help students cope with common mental ailments such as homesickness, relationship issues or anxiety, funded in part by the universities’ student activity fees.

For example, IUP’s Center for Health and Well-Being is an on-campus facility to provide students with immediate treatment for acute medical conditions. It includes the Counseling Center, suited for treating acute mental health problems.

Roughly 800 students pass through the counseling center each academic year, about 5.6 percent of IUP’s roughly 14,000 student population, according to an April 8 email exchange with David M. Myers, associate professor and department chairman at the center.

“The average number of sessions students attend is 4-5,” Myers wrote. “We are about on par with similar-sized institutions.”

This figure is lower than the 8.9 percent national average of counseling center use at public, four-year institutions with student populations between 7,500 and 15,000, according to the 2013 NSCCD.

Myers, who said the center was busy and he was unable to meet, said the most common student concerns at IUP align with the national trends — anxiety, depression and relationship issues.

Clinical psychology doctoral candidate Peter Kozel, who has been an active social worker since 2009, said the IUP counseling center is well-equipped to handle these issues, some of the most common nationally.

“Panic disorder and depression are very common here,” Kozel said in a Feb. 26 interview in the Center. “There’s been a huge surge of specifically anxiety. It’s three times as reported as it was 20 years ago.”

Anxiety disorders affect roughly 40 million American adults ages 18 and over in a given year, roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population, according to the NIMH website.

The ACHA-NCHA fall-semester 2008 survey reported an average of 10.4 percent of students were diagnosed or treated by a professional for anxiety in the previous year. Survey data from the 2014 spring semester indicated an average of 14.3 percent. That nearly 4 percentage-point increase in six years represents a 38 percent increase of incidence.

Group therapy and one-on-one counseling sessions — both of which the IUP counseling center offers to students — have been shown to be effective at treating these disorders, Kozel said. However, he said he could not produce documented evidence of the effectiveness of these therapies.


THE IUP CENTER is ill-equipped to handle more serious mental disorders, like schizophrenia, Kozel said. The center’s policy is to send students with serious mental illnesses to other counseling centers for treatment.

Dr. Ralph May, chief clinical officer at White Township’s Community Guidance Center, said his facility has had a long-term contract with IUP’s Counseling Center. The arrangement obligates IUP to send students to the CGC for treatment.

“When students go to the counseling center with more serious stuff, they send them to us,” May said in a March 25 interview in his CGC office.

May, a 1987 IUP alumnus, said the college environment is a difficult setting for emerging mental illness.

“If your peers think, ‘Man, this guy’s hearing voices,’ what are they going to think?” May said. “Call the counseling hotline? I don’t think so.”

The U.S. health care system is far from forgiving for patients diagnosed with mental illnesses, May said, citing a disconnect between the treatment of physical and mental ailments.

“Even the term ‘mental illness’ is misleading,” May said. “The brain is a body organ. It’s a physical disorder.”


FOR McGilvray and others living with mental illnesses, stigma and public perception continue to be concerns. However, McGilvray said she has sensed improvement during her time at IUP.

“I feel there’s been a change,” McGilvray said, “especially in the theater department.”

Her journey to a degree has been challenging, she said. But it has been worth it to honor a promise she made with her late grandfather to get her degree, no matter how long it took.

McGilvray said she plans to use her degree to pursue a career in aquatic direction in Orlando, Fla.

Andrew Milliken, a senior majoring in music and minoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from McClellandtown, Pa.


Sidebar: CART — IUP’s response to Virginia Tech

Daniel A. Burkett, dean’s associate in the IUP College of Natural Science and  Mathematics, in his Weyandt Hall office, May 4. Photo by Andrew Milliken.

Daniel A. Burkett, dean’s associate in the IUP College of Natural Science and Mathematics, in his Weyandt Hall office, May 4. Photo by Andrew Milliken.

INDIANA — The Concern and Response Team was Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s reaction to the Virginia Tech shootings of April 16, 2007, the deadliest such event by a single shooter in U.S. history, according to CNN.

South Korean student Seung-Hui Cho, 23, killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on the Blacksburg, Va., campus before committing suicide. He had been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder and a major depressive disorder.

At IUP, CART’s purpose is to know “when behaviors may pose risks to the welfare of others,” according to its website. It also assists students who have difficulty adjusting to life on campus, according to Daniel A. Burkett, the dean’s associate of the college of natural science and mathematics.

“After the events at Virginia Tech, universities across the country did some self-reflection,” Burkett said in a May 4 interview in his Weyandt Hall office. “We want to make sure faculty and staff are aware of resources.”

CART’s 13 members represent each of IUP’s colleges, the Center for Health and Well-Being, campus police and other IUP departments. CART functions as a referral service and network for faculty and students, Burkett said.

CART emphasizes concern for the needy. For example, one CART web posting says its job is “to help assist students whose behaviors are concerning to others.” Another says CART is “building and maintaining a caring and concerned university community.

“We assist students when having difficulties outside the academic arena,” Burkett said.

But CART also serves as a surveillance system to alert campus authorities to “behaviors that pose risk to others,” according to its web postings. Members “meet bi-weekly and as needed, and routinely communicate with one another.”

How many people come to the attention of CART members, however, is not made public. The numbers are known to IUP Vice President for Student Affairs Rhonda H. Luckey, who also serves as CART’s “convener,” Burkett said in a May 16 email.

“She keeps all of the centralized information,” Burkett wrote.

But when asked for numbers, Luckey responded in a May 19 email that she could provide no data on CART referrals or trends. Instead, she passed the question to IUP spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling.

“Because Michelle is more accessible than I am, I have asked Michelle to contact you today, to not only respond to the specific question you have asked but also to provide additional information which you may be seeking,” Luckey’s email reads. “Michelle will be a great contact for you for this article and future articles.”

Fryling, whose name appears nowhere on IUP’s Standing CART Membership webpage, responded in a May 20 email.

“In answer to your question, the members of CART meet regularly to discuss student concerns and supports students and their needs,” Fryling’s email reads. “Since the members of CART represent many facets of Academic and Student Affairs, the team interacts with literally hundreds of students in any given semester.”

In a follow-up May 22 email, Fryling cited privacy concerns as cause for keeping more specific numbers under wraps.

“Because of privacy issues, we’re not releasing numbers,” Fryling wrote.

— by Andrew Milliken


Sidebar: Local mental-health resources

Following sources of information and assistance are among the more widely used services in Indiana County, Pa.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center
David M. Myers
Associate professor and department chairman
Suites on Maple East, G31
901 Maple St.
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-2621

The Community Guidance Center
Ralph May
Chief clinical officer
793 Old Route 119 North Highway
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724-465-5576

The Open Door

The Atrium – 2nd floor
665 Philadelphia St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724-465-2605 (24-hours a day, seven days a week by phone)

Crisis Intervention Hotline – 1-877-333-2470

The Alice Paul House

Indiana Regional Medical Center
835 Hospital Road
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724-357-7000

Family Behavioral Resources
P.O. Box 879
Greensburg, Pa. 15601
Phone: 724-850-9500

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