Over the years, West Chester University has been an advocate of the importance of students’ mental health, from their free counseling services to pop-up mental health clinics to the therapy dog program in Sykes. Today, we will be hearing back from the student body about how they feel about the mental health services being provided here on campus.
As mentioned, WCU provides a variety of mental health services, including individual/group counseling, crisis intervention, psychiatric services, consultation, outreach, drug and alcohol awareness education and identifying destress. Their mission, as listed on the WCU Counseling and Psychological Services website, is to ensure optimal health through the provision of quality mental health services for all currently enrolled WCU students.
So, What Do the Students Think?
In an online survey sent out to students at West Chester University, 94% of surveyors responded they are consciously aware of their mental health, or feel as though it has become a disquiet since coming to college. However, only 22% of surveyors wrote that had personally sought assistance from WCU.
When asked what stops them from visiting the counseling center, the top two answers were that students had little time in their schedules, followed by not feeling comfortable talking with someone. The numbers may not sound so odd when you think of what leads up to these answers. According to the WCU Mental Health Services website, in order to receive initially free counseling services, students must visit the counseling center in Lawrence during triage hours to schedule an appointment. (Triage hours are Monday through Friday, 1 to 3 p.m.) In order to receive a slot, students can visit the center early in the morning to reserve one, as they do fill up fast. So, do students have to race and beat out each other in order to receive an appointment?
Here is where predicaments arise. Some students do not live close to Lawrence, where the counseling center is located, so they then have to plan walking a far distance twice; once in the morning to reserve a spot and then again for the actual appointment. All of this is happening in the middle of an already busy schedule, just talk to somebody professional about our mental health. For someone who is feeling depressed, where it may already take an extraneous amount of effort to just get up and take care of themselves for the day, this can be asking a lot. We are the ones asking for help, but it is such a process to receive free counseling, that the thought of this routine can be so overwhelming, students just pass on the idea of seeing someone altogether. While the survey also suggests that students still do not feel comfortable discussing their mental health and crises with others, is that because what is being provided is not necessarily what students need to start the discussion?
A Closer Look: Maddie’s Story
Maddie S. is a 20-year-old English education and special education major at WCU who visited the counseling center her freshman year. She was willing to share her experience with me.
“I was having a lot of separation anxiety because it’s a complete lifestyle change. I am an only child, and extremely close with my family. It was strange having complete separation.” Stated Maddie.
“I needed more strategies, but she only wrote out charts of what she should do at each anxiety point: mild, medium, to full blown anxiety attack. She didn’t want me to call home as much. But what would I do if I didn’t have her chart right on me?”
Maddie explained how the interviewing process for pairing up counselors and patients needs to change. Not only do the counselors and patients need to be paired well, but the counselors need to be empathetic and understanding of the feelings we experience as adolescents in the new collegiate environment.
“Being able to connect with the students is more important than being ‘qualified’. I wish I had someone I could have vented to and shown that they understand what I am feeling.”
What We Can Do from Here
WCU has done a great job at bringing mental health services onto campus, but our next step is to make sure those services are received by as many students as possible. The stigma of mental health, as well as the race to receive services before they fill up on campus, seems to remain part of the reason why many college students do not seek help. When it comes to those who are reaching out for services, feelings of not being understood or heard is why counseling sessions remain unsuccessful. If WCU is unable to take steps, like opening up more centers for mental health counseling or the hiring of welcoming counselors, then we definitely need to make the availability of someone to talk to, in addition to the Crisis Text Line, when students do not feel comfortable coming in face to face to talk. Taking that first step is always a big one, we need to make the pathway to mental health services welcoming for our students.
Olivia Mancarella is a third-year student majoring in English BSEd (Secondary Ed.). OM888660@wcupa.edu.