West Chester University welcomed its largest freshman class for the 2019 fall semester.
The demands of this new population have been felt in many facets of campus life, including housing, food lines and student services. The Counseling Center has been struggling to meet the new demands, forcing students’ mental health to be sacrificed.
The Quad Features Editor Kirsten Magas wrote an article earlier this month covering the understaffed center. She cites the International Accreditation of Counseling Services as recommending one counselor per 1,000 – 1,500 students; West Chester is currently two short of meeting that statistic. Counseling Center Director Dr. Rachel Daltry admits that the strain caused by a growing population is real.
“More and more students present to the Counseling Center every day. We continue to provide counseling services, outreach and educational programs and case management services that help students get connected with mental health providers off-campus. We wish we could be seeing more students for counseling at the Counseling Center, but there are just not enough counselors to better meet the mental health needs of our student body,” said Daltry.
Ongoing counseling is offered to students on a first come, first serve basis. For those with pre-existing mental health conditions, this can be a lifeline during the semester. This becomes especially critical for those who cannot afford the finance of outside counseling. However, the center cannot provide this forever.
After a semester of having ongoing counseling, an anonymous student reported that they were informed they would not be able to receive the same service next semester. Though the center is useful in looking for an outside mental health provider, this is not an option for the student.
“I found out about the policy two weeks ago, after attending weekly sessions all semester . . . This policy means that I will need to find outside therapy and cannot go back to the Counseling Center. Since I don’t have money or insurance that covers mental health, I will not be able to continue getting help for my mental health,” said the student.
After a semester of having ongoing counseling, an anonymous student reported that they were informed they would not be able to receive the same service next semester.
The student reported a positive experience with the center, making it all the more inconvenient to be forced to look elsewhere.
“My experience with the Counseling Center has been extremely positive. I have been to therapy before, and I think that this is one of the more positive centers and staff that I have met. I definitely connected with my on-campus therapist quickly and easily,” said the student.
The semester limit for ongoing therapy is not noted on the West Chester University website. Daltry makes the argument that this is not intentional, it just simply avoids having to label that aspect of their service. She says that students are always welcome in the center.
“We talk about being a brief therapy center on our website but haven’t put a specific label. Sometimes students think if they have already had a semester’s worth of counseling at the Counseling Center that they can never come back. This isn’t true – students can always come back – they just may not be able to receive ongoing counseling again at the Counseling Center. But we try to have a flexibility to allow for various situations that may come up,” said Daltry.
The circumstances that cause the center to have to limit their outreach are preventable. More staff, funding and resources allocated towards student’s mental health could allow for more of the “flexibility” that Daltry references. The anonymous student noted other signs of a lack of concern for mental health at West Chester University.
“I think this policy really shows a part of a bigger issue with how this campus handles mental health. It makes me feel like they don’t care about the mental health of students, just like when they have ‘mental health day,’ but we still have class and teachers aren’t encouraged to give us a day off or to assign less work. Mental health is an ongoing experience, and not something you can be healed from in 15 weeks. Since I pay tens of thousands of dollars per year to attend this school, it would be great to have access to the services I need at any time, not just for one semester,” said the anonymous student.
As the university tries to accommodate the ever-growing student population, it seems to forget the importance of mental health. Because mental health has a direct impact on academics, it seems like an obvious choice to provide for the students that determine the university’s performance. Even when not focusing on the extrinsic benefits, humanity teaches us to place intrinsic health above that of the material world.
“Several things I have heard is that we are too expensive or that we could never have enough counselors to meet the mental health needs of students. However, I feel like we could be doing a lot better in meeting those mental health needs. I think the mental health of our students should be invested in more and think we need to prioritize more resources for students and the Counseling Center,” said Daltry.
Caroline Helms is a first-year student majoring in English. CH923621@wcupa.edu