It is no longer an arguable fact that mental illnesses and mental health issues, in general, are on the rise for college students in America and around the world. More and more students are being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder, among many other mental illnesses. And this is not only impacting their academic performance but their social and extracurricular involvement, to name a few.
As mental health issues become more prevalent, the stigma behind seeking and receiving help for said mental health struggles decreases. Although it is not completely eradicated, it is more accepted than ever before to seek out counseling services. More and more of my friends and classmates are not only going to the counseling center to schedule an appointment but also talking openly about the benefits of getting help.
Unfortunately, the availability of collegiate counseling services on many campuses does not meet the need of college students. Simply put, the number of counselors, therapists, and support services does not match the number of students who need or want their services. That does not go to say that colleges have not stepped up their game in terms of mental health services. Counseling services are advertised and their services are made clear to students.
At Gustavus, students are given 12 free counseling sessions which is a really good number of sessions to get for free. Therapy and counseling are not inexpensive services, and if you know anything about college students it’s that we do not have an abundance of money.
The issue in the counseling services offered at college is typically not the cost or amount of services, it is the lack of availability of said services. It is common for students at Gustavus to go into the Counseling Center and request an appointment and be met with a two week waiting period. And the reason why this just does not work is because mental illnesses and mental health do not work with two-week waiting periods. Depression cannot reschedule an episode until you have a counselor to talk to. Anxiety cannot put itself on pause until a scheduled appointment in two weeks. If someone is seeking out a counseling appointment, there is a good chance they really need help and need it as soon as possible.
I want to make it clear that I am not placing any of this on the shoulders of the counselors and workers in college counseling centers. And most of these waiting periods happen around the “high-stress” times of the year: finals, holidays, and major events. The wait time does fluctuate depending on the time of a year. It is on more of an administrative level-funds need to be reallocated to hire more counselors or therapists.
Or connections need to be made with outside counseling services to offer cost-effective therapy and counseling options that do not require students to wait for two weeks to receive an appointment. There are other services offered on college campuses, such as online counseling services.
And at Gustavus, this is done through the Learn To Live program. As convenient as it can be to complete counseling online from the comfort of your own room and have weekly calls with a counselor, the lessons do have an impersonal feeling to them at times and the programs do typically end after a fairly short amount of time.
What we have in place is simply not working. Someone in crisis is simply in that: a crisis. And these needs need to be met within the day if possible. Because if the needs of someone struggling with their mental health are not met, there is a chance that things could take a turn for the worse.
As great as it is that the stigma behind mental illnesses and mental health services is lessening, it is imperative that we provide the services needed to bolster one’s mental health when feeling less than perfect. The changes will likely be difficult, complex, and involved, but worth the work. If not for current college students, than for those to come.