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Friday, August 14, 2020

Student need outpaces mental health resources

As the second half of the quarter begins, student stress amplifies across campus. With midterm tests and projects in full swing, anxiety reaches a high.

A grey blanket of clouds marks the transition into a dreary Bellingham winter. Students struggle to fight the seasonal flu as a darker illness lurks in the depths of the early sundown.

Illustration by Cole Sandhofer

The sudden change in weather, in conjunction with the shorter days, can make it more difficult for students who may already be grappling with their mental health on a daily basis.

Approximately one in three college freshmen reported poor mental health last year, according to the United States National Library of Medicine.

Anxiety affects almost 15 percent of total college students across the United States, according to an article from Health Day.

With this knowledge under its belt, Western’s Counseling Center provides a myriad of services for students. They offer short-term individual guidance, crisis counseling, group therapy, workshops and referrals to outside providers when more long term counseling is necessary. At first glance, it may appear that students have an abundance of services.

However, even with what seems like many different resources, only 12 percent of Western students utilize the Counseling Center, said Interim Director and Assistant Director of Clinical Operations, Anne Marie Theiler.

This low percentage leaves counselors and mental health advocates searching for answers and a new approach to bringing students in.

Western’s Counseling Center now offers “Let’s talk,” a drop in, informal consultation program for students. “Let’s talk” does not replace regular counseling, the hope is that it encourages students who normally wouldn’t to come into the center and explore services.

Unfortunately, “Let’s talk” is only offered on Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. which closes the program off to any students who have class during that hour.

When it comes to weekly and biweekly counseling, scheduling appointments can remain strenuous. Individual counseling sessions are offered on a short-term basis. This model works for many students who come to the counseling center to address concerns often faced by college students. But for students seeking longer, more intensive therapy, getting the help they need and deserve can be challenging.

During a student’s initial appointment, they will be asked to answer a series of questions which determine what kind of services would be most beneficial for them. If it appears that long-term counseling will be most helpful, they are then considered “outside of the scope of services” and transferred to the center’s case manager who provides referral options in the community, according to the center’s website.

I disagree with this method of counseling.

When students take the time and energy to focus on their health, they deserve to be taken care of and provided for. When students pay tuition, they contribute fees that go specifically to the Counseling Center. So, why can’t we take the time to help them in a more comprehensive way?

Currently 64 percent of students who stopped attending college did so because of mental health reasons, according to a study at Chadron State College. We cannot procrastinate a solution when this is so obviously the glaring problem across college campuses.

Over the last ten years, the number of college students seeking counseling increased by 30 percent. Counseling centers across the nation do not have the space, staff or funding to keep up with such growth. The average university has one professional counselor for every 1,737 students, according to a New York Times article.

Everyone is suddenly talking about mental health, but we cannot simply discuss these issues, we must find solutions.

Currently the Counseling Center is confined to a small space located in Old Main. Even if the University found the finances to hire more counselors, we do not have the room for them.  

We cannot continue to tell people to “seek help” if we are not going to follow up and provide it. Our school needs to invest funding into this issue and so does our government. Until every public entity works as a team, students will not receive the quality educations they pay for.

It can be exhausting enough coping with mental illness, so seeking help is a big step that costs a lot of energy. It is discouraging and disheartening to be sent elsewhere because your health is “outside of the scope of services” the Counseling Center can offer.

In her opinion piece surrounding mental health for The Guardian, Hannah Parkinson wrote, “enough awareness has been raised. We – the public, health professionals, politicians – need to make our actions count.”

Parkinson is right, enough conversation has occurred. It is time for action to take place.

If we can find the funds to build a new gymnasium and bring musical performers to campus, we can invest in the well-being of our students.

 

The editorial board is comprised of Alyssa Bruce, Julia Furukawa and Ray Garcia

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