AU Counseling Center stretched thin
As national surveys show that more college students are dealing with depression and other mental health issues than ever before, universities across the country are attempting to cope with the growing problem.
In a 2013 nationwide survey, 46.5 percent of students reported feelings of hopelessness, and 31.8 percent reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function at some point during the past 12 months, according to the American College Health Association.
The numbers are similar at AU. A 2013 ACHA survey of 745 AU students found that 32.3 percent of students reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function at some point during the last 12 months. Over half of respondents reported having feelings of overwhelming anxiety in the last year.
At AU, campus resources are “strained” in attempts to deal with the rising student demand for mental health services, according to the Director of AU’s Counseling Center Traci Callandrillo, Ph.D.
Since 2010, the center has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of individuals served, according to Callandrillo. During the 2013-2014 academic year, between 1,100 and 1,200 individuals visited the center, and it is on track to see even more students than that this year, Callandrillo said.
“We have a lot more demand than we ever have [had] before,” Callandrillo said. “This is a national trend, and it’s definitely true for us, we see increased demand every year.”
Mental Health Resources
AU offers several outlets and options for students seeking mental health assistance or services.
Counseling Center: Mary Graydon Center, room 214
To make an appointment: Call (202) 885-3500 or by visiting the center in person.
For urgent needs, the center offers walk-in hours during the week from 3 - 5 p.m.
Offers: Group therapy: Six different group therapy sessions offered during the fall semester. Groups are generally kept small with a maximum of nine participants, according to the center’s website.
Self-help: Includes an online library on psychological topics and self-quizzes to help students assess their feelings and behaviors.
Individual counseling: Offered on a more limited basis and usually with a graduate trainee. Clinicians in the center can help students find the appropriate off campus professionals to best meet their needs
Health Center: McCabe Hall, first floor
Offers: Assistance with managing students’ psychiatric medications. Through 45 minute initial evaluations, prescribing clinicians help students determine if and what form of medication is appropriate.
Wellness Center: McCabe Hall, room 123
Offers: Peer education programs including PEERS, The Body Project and Peer Health Educators. It also offers advice for helping a friend with drug, alcohol or eating disorder issues.
As the demand outgrows the supply of time slots, some students must be sent into the community if they wish to seek ongoing, long-term therapy or be placed on a waitlist to see a professional in the center, Callandrillo said.
“We’re always going to do our best to accommodate students as much as we can,” Callandrillo said. “We really try to avoid [waiting lists], but some of the things that we are required to respond to we have to respond to, which means for other situations either the person’s going to have to wait a little bit longer or they’re going to have to seek services in the community.”
The average wait this semester for an initial consultation in the center was approximately three weeks, according to Callandrillo.
Kelly Davis, the president of AU’s chapter of Active Minds, said she believes the extended wait time to receive Counseling Center services is the biggest problem facing students regarding mental health. Active Minds is a student group dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues on campus.
“If you look at it from the point that a lot of these mental health concerns start in college, and you’re suddenly in a new environment and you’re brave enough to reach out to the Counseling Center, and they say ‘okay we’ll help you in a month,’ it can be totally frustrating and be a really big let down,” Davis said.
To combat its strained resources, Davis said she believes the center needs to be expanded to accommodate more students. While the center did hire an additional staff member last year, Davis also suggested adding other options for students, such as peer to peer counseling in a similar format as a suicide prevention hotline.
“I think it’s really reassuring to know that you’re not alone, and that there’s other people out there who want to show you not only that they’ve been through it, but also that they can point you in the right direction and open up that discussion,” she said.
Davis is not the only student who believes a larger campus focus needs to be brought to mental health issues. Students also brought up the topic at the recent AU It’s on Us Report and Recommendations Release on Nov. 11.
As Student Government President Sophia Wirth discussed increasing support services for survivors of sexual assault, students asked how the Counseling Center would be able to accommodate these individuals if it is already strained with long wait lists. Wirth responded that members of SG are working to advocate for more mental health resources but did not outline a specific plan.
“We have three individuals who are working in the Undergraduate Senate and in my cabinet to work with the Counseling Center to figure out what students’ needs are first, and then figure out a way to address them,” Wirth said in the meeting. “That’s something we hope to have a concrete plan on by the beginning of next semester.”
SG’s Undergraduate Senate is creating new advocacy legislation to promote mental health awareness, according to Senator for the Campus at Large Jasmine Nadim. Earlier this semester, the senate passed a resolution to make mental health advocacy a priority in SG this year, Nadim said.
“The real issue people have is that they don’t understand the resources available to them,” Nadim said. “They also don’t understand how they can’t get an appointment with the Counseling Center.”
Looking at mental health as part of the larger campus culture, Davis said that although it may be uncomfortable, AU needs to bring the topic closer to the forefront of students‘ minds. In its current state, Davis believes the University’s resources fall behind.
“I was sold on AU as this progressive, lean forward institution, and they’re there with a lot of things, but as far as mental health, I think that they fall short,” Davis said.