Without a doubt, mental health is becoming a more common topic of discussion in our culture. Articles highlighting topics that were once societal taboos – such as depression, anxiety, rape, disorders, sexual assault – are now becoming less stigmatized. According to Dr. Robin Cooper, the Associate Director of the university’s Counseling Center, approximately 18 percent of the student body currently attends the Counseling Center for one-on-one counseling.
“[This rate of attendance] is higher than most university counseling centers. The average is approximately 13 percent,” Cooper said. “We see at least one in four of you [in your college career]. So 25 percent of all students are seen at some point during college.”
In recent years, weekly workshops and support groups have been developed to create a space for people to have conversations that are often times difficult to have in everyday life. These have become increasingly important, as the rate of psychiatric hospitalization has quadrupled on campus within the past three years.
When questioned about why the workshops were developed in the first place, Cooper referenced a concerning statistic.
“[There has been] a dramatic increase in the number of psychiatric hospitalizations. In the last three years, the number of psychiatric hospitalizations has quadrupled. Last year, 2016-2017, there were 33 psychiatric hospitalizations, while there were 18 the year before that and only 8 the year before that.”
With such drastically rising statistics, students have faced difficulty in receiving timely appointments due to a notorious waitlist. Cooper responded to the reality with sincerity, and said, “I think it’s awful and we need to be staffed so we don’t have a waitlist, and that has been our worry – that people don’t even call.”
“We feel that having a waiting list, given the cost of tuition here, is very frustrating for students. We absolutely understand that frustration, and fear that people that are on the waiting list are getting worse while they’re waiting,” said Cooper, who continued to explain how “about 20 percent of the students surveyed who used Academic Success and Disability Services but who did not use the Counseling Center said that they did not attempt to make an appointment at the Counseling Center because they heard that there was such a long waiting list.”
The Counseling Center’s newest staff psychologist, Dr. Brigette Worthen, explained, “we looked at our cases and saw what issues [were] coming up. I had a lot of students that had been sexually assaulted, molested – that’s kind of how [the Empowerment Support Group] came up. We thought, what is the goal of the group? For people to feel empowered. In thinking about the group, instilling empowerment – that you do have control over your life, you have a voice, and you can say what matters.”
Weekly workshops and support groups are developed based on a university-wide demand. These meetings are held in the Counseling Center and have given students on campus an environment in which they can have a safe and confidential space. This space is intended to provide students with an atmosphere that encourages conversation on topics in privacy that they might feel are too taboo to discuss casually in the library or commons.
Fortunately, there is an array of weekly workshops, each focused on different subjects such as a Social Survival Group, a Grief Group, a Drug and Alcohol Support Group, an Empowerment Support Group, a Manage the Mood Group, Transgender and Questioning Group, and a Mindfulness & Stress Management Experiential Workshop.
In regards to why the workshops and support groups are held in group rather than individual sessions, Worthen said that the workshops allow students to benefit from one another through collaboration.
“I love group work because I see my role as a facilitator,” Worthen said. “So, I’m not involved in the sense that I’m not trying to guide the group, rather I’m just there to kind of facilitate what comes up for people. What I love about groups is you do get to sit back and watch people feed off of one another and see people grow and evolve. In a group, there are lots of different personalities and dynamics, and I find that very interesting.”
Both Worthen and Cooper reiterated the importance of confidentiality and secrecy of the meetings. Cooper confirmed that “The Counseling Center provides confidential therapy – which means that we cannot share what you tell us or that you have even been to the Counseling Center with anyone on campus without your written consent. While we have limits to confidentiality, if we feel like someone is in imminent danger, we are not mandated reporters in the way that CAs or other administrators on campus are. It is a safe and confidential space. The records that you have with us are not a part of your academic record at the University. No one is going to know and it’s not a part of your university record. We want people to come.”
Worthen explained, the groups and workshops “are all open, however, depending on the dynamic of the group, the facilitator may want to screen new group members. Therefore, our practice is to have students who are interested in groups contact the group facilitator to discuss joining the group.” To elaborate, she described, “when a student attends a group for the first time we have them sign in so that we can keep track of group members.”
Of course, a group or workshop won’t always be the antidote to one’s problems, and all facilitators and counselors on campus recognize this.
If you’re feeling daunted by the waitlist, these workshops and support groups can be a valuable option. In the event of a crisis, Cooper strongly urges people to “call the counseling center saying you need to have an evaluation , and if it’s after hours to call the 24/7 line that we have. We don’t want anyone getting worse. We will see you if [you’re] in crisis. You define crisis. We believe in you.”
This article is the first of many to come within the Mental Health and Well-Being Series. Clarifications regarding the waitlist, understaffing, and the Counseling Center’s budget will all come in the near future.
photo courtesy of Caillie Roach