Signs hang all around the dorms telling students the importance of mental health and to seek help if they need it. But when students currently try to seek help at Eckerd College, they wait an average of three weeks for a 30-minute initial meeting.
Sophomore Triniti Goldsmith went to counseling services twice last year and has not been back due to the three-week wait she experienced followed by a negative experience.
“I felt as if they didn’t have time for me. I felt like I was a burden,” Goldsmith said. “After the session, I would feel maybe even worse because it felt like no one was really listening.”
Executive Director of Counseling, Outreach and Health Services Linda Abbott said they are aiming to get the wait down to 1-2 weeks maximum.
“We are adding some additional hours for one of our clinicians to get us through the end of the semester,” Abbott said.
Dianna Trevouledes, a therapist at Eckerd, went from working three days a week last year to one day this year and then back to two.
“It makes it really hard to meet with Dianna, who I have been seeing for over a year when her hours are cut,” junior Ellie Foden said. “I get very overwhelmed by my thoughts and more anxious if I don’t see her on a weekly basis.”
Abbott said since she is new to this role, she is using this year to gauge staffing in relation to student need. She has not heard from her staff that they are overwhelmed.
“We have more and more students coming in for counseling which is good,” Abbott said. “We want them to want to come in and we want to be able to serve them, we’re just trying to figure out the best way to do that. We are using this year to determine where we go from here.”
Outreach Services is an additional resource to students that works closely with Counseling Services. They have two full-time staff members that can handle short-term needs and act as case managers.
They can also refer students to off-campus resources, something which can be frustrating to those who seek them out for more local help or do not have the financial means.
“Sometimes you need someone you can just vent too, not someone who is going to hand you off to someone else,” sophomore Cooper Moss said.
Dr. Tre Thomas is the Director of Clinical Services and Training. In addition to that role, she sees clients individually and offers group therapy.
“Therapy at Eckerd has really helped me,” Foden said. “It has allowed me to talk and connect with my counselor who helped me get through tough periods and develop strategies to deal with my depression.”
According to Thomas, Eckerd students most often seek out their help for negative self-image, lack of resilience when feeling rejected or not good enough, self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, depression, cutting behavior, eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma and, most common of all, anxiety.
In addition to Thomas, there are three part-time clinicians and two part-time graduate students.
“The reason we have gone with that model is it gives us greater variety in different types of issues...It gives us a little more depth in what we offer,” Abbott said.
According to Gene Beresin, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, there has been a steady increase in the number of students with severe psychological problems, and the demand for counseling services has grown at least five times faster than average student enrollment. He shared some staggering statistics:
- Almost half of college students had a psychiatric disorder in the past year
- 73% of students experience a mental health crisis during college
- One-third of college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning
- Mental health issues during college are associated with a lower GPA and higher probability of dropping out
- More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year, and 45% have felt hopeless
- Twenty percent of female students report sexual assault or threatened assault
- Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help.
The scientific journal "Psychiatric Services" published a study this month showing that college counseling centers across the country are under-resourced and operating at full capacity with wait lists.
Christopher Brennan, Vice President of Business and Finance, said that expenses for the Counseling Center during the 2017-18 academic year were $31,000 more than the 2016-17 academic year due to an increase in enrollment and demand.
“I expect the 2018-19 academic year expenditures will be higher than last year given the current enrollment, demand for services and additional administrative position of Executive Director of Counseling, Outreach and Health Services,” Brennan said.
Dean of Students James Annarelli said funding has not been an issue when it comes to Counseling.
“She [Abbott] makes the recommendation [for additional funding] and then I carry it forward and try to make it happen, which I’ve never been turned down when I’ve asked for additional budget to fund that elasticity of therapist hours,” Annarelli said. “Although every department could make good use of additional funding.”