The recent deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are bringing back the topic of the country’s depression and suicide epidemic to the forefront. Depression and suicide can happen to a person for a multitude of reasons, be it triggering events, a side effect of medication or nothing at all. It breaks the brain and those suffering need to get help.
Today’s college students are seeking on-campus help at record numbers, but the supply rarely meets the demand. How long does it take to get an appointment with a therapist at your school? When I called the counseling office crying, my initial appointment was scheduled for two weeks later. A friend of mine couldn’t get an appointment for two months. I’ve heard of one student who went to the counseling office with a blade to their wrist demanding an appointment because they had been neglected for so long, only to speak to the therapist for five minutes.
While jarring, this is a national problem. Over the past five years, college counseling centers have seen a 30% increase in student visits, but necessary resources are underfunded and understaffed. The college experience is one that brings on an immense amount of stress on young adults. With so much pressure put on college students to succeed – on top of other problems like loneliness, self-esteem issues, abusive relationships, sexual assault and more – it is no surprise that the student-demand for mental health services is increasing.
In a survey across dozens of universities – small, large, public and private – STAT found that students have to wait weeks for an initial intake exam. At Northwestern University, wait times can be as long as three weeks. At the University of Washington in Seattle, wait times are posted online because delays are so normal. Once you have this first appointment, students typically only have their symptoms reviewed. The wait to see an actual psychiatrist who can prescribe medication, or even just a therapist with whom you can talk through your problems, may be even longer.
The fact that more students are seeking treatment may be a sign that Mental Health Awareness campaigns are working, but universities must catch up and do more to provide counseling services to their students.
At Clark University, the student need is so unmet that a student campaign has begun calling on the University to meet the mental health needs of its students. The student group in charge of this campaign, Diversability, advocates for those with diverse abilities – both mental and physical. They began the campaign with a petition that now has 259 signatures.
“We have been witnesses to suicide attempts, talked our friends down from suicidal and self-harmful thoughts, and we ourselves have had to wait up to a month for an appointment at the Center for Counseling and Personal Growth,” the petition reads. “We are afraid for the lives of our friends.”
Diversability’s petition goes beyond hiring more staffers. One of its several demands includes raising the cap on the number of appointments students can receive per semester. Currently, students have only six sessions with the counseling which is “not enough to meet [the] needs” of students who are dealing with severe issues such as suicidal ideation, says one Clark University first-year. “I need help every week. Every single week,” says one anonymous Clark University student. “I cannot afford help elsewhere and I need Clark to help me. My life and my well-being are at risk.”
Many students do not have the privilege to afford an off-campus therapist, nor the transportation to get to and from. Even if a student does, this can be an inconvenience for students with busy schedules, as well as for students with anxiety where planning for this alone may cause further stress and harm.
Another demand is that Clark University provides transportation to off-campus resources. While Clark University has an escort van service that falls within range, the thought of having to call or face your classmates who operate the van can be daunting to those who need the counseling resources the most. Other demands include making neuro-psych exams available at a low cost to students, introduce therapy-based groups such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy and Dialectical-Behavioral therapy, including accessibility and disability to orientation, implementing the crisis hotline Protocol and simply acknowledging that there are mental health issues on campus.
In the 2016-2017 academic year, Clark University’s counseling services saw 523 students of a campus with approximately 2,200 students. Of those 523 students, 99 were suicidal. In the fall of 2017 alone, services saw 435 students. The number of students who report seeking services is staggering, but as is the number of students who need help and do not seek it.
Another anonymous Clark University student has stated that the six appointment cap is so limiting, that they “haven’t even bothered to go at all.” One other first-year says that they “don't use the counseling center because [they] feel guilty taking that spot from someone who is more suicidal."
Thankfully, the administration is beginning to hear and address these concerns. In a meeting with Clark University’s president, David Angel, Diversability learned that the school was expanding counseling services to what is currently a university-owned off-campus apartment. While well-meaning and definitely a step forward, this move is problematic because students who had been assigned to live in those apartments had been kicked out after the housing application process was over. Additionally, the building is inaccessible to students with physical disabilities since you have to walk up several steps to reach it.
The need for sufficient mental health services on university campuses is not a need specific to just Clark University, and we can look at Diversability’s current efforts and hopefully apply them elsewhere. It is clear that we need more mental health services, but we also need accessible mental health services— services that do not require students to have to go out of their way and are not limited to a mere six sessions a semester. As one Clark University student said, “not many issues with universities are immediately life or death, but this one is."
Lead Image Credit: ASweeneyPhoto via Flickr