When I contacted the Director of AU’s Counseling Center, Dr. Traci Callandrillo, to talk to her about this article, she told me she would happily speak with me, but it had to be via email. Why? The AU Counseling Center was booked up, without exception, for the next two weeks. This isn’t an unusual occurrence. It’s the problem students on campuses across the country are met with when they reach out to their school’s counseling centers, only to be placed on a two to three week waiting list. With each year, the list of frustrated students seeking help grows longer.
“The AU Counseling Center was booked up, without exception, for the next two weeks. This isn’t an unusual occurrence.”
Dr. Callandrillo told me that last year 1,223 students received an individual appointment with the school’s Counseling Center. The overall ratio of AU students contacting the Center each year is roughly 1 in 3. This 33 percentage is near the national average for universities — a number that is growing at an unprecedented rate.
The Center for Collegiate Mental Health reported that while rates of overall college enrollment have increased 5.6% in the past five years, the number of students seeking out their school’s counseling centers has increased 29.6%, more than five times the rate of enrollment. Anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts — across the board, rates of all are increasing. It’s enough to make any of us fear for our sick, sleepless, anxiety ridden generation (dubbed by some as “the Medication Generation”), but things may not be as dire as the numbers suggest.
“The increase in counseling indicates that efforts to spark a dialogue on mental health among young adults has been successful.”
Complaints can be heard daily across AU’s campus from those who see a culture that has normalized therapy, meds, and “trigger warnings” as evidence that our generation is weak, but I don’t buy that. Ben Lock, executive director of CCMH, says that the rapid increase in numbers cannot be a result “of a sudden disappearance of resilience at the national level.”
Many professionals, in fact, want to see these numbers. The increase in counseling indicates that efforts to spark a dialogue on mental health among young adults have been successful. For example, the statistic that 32% of students visiting their counseling center report suicidal thoughts is initially terrifying. But, this is after 8 years of federal funding towards suicide prevention education in schools (thanks to the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act) and campaigns such as “It Gets Better.” While it is scary that suicidal thoughts are so common among our student body, the fact that these thoughts are being voiced to a professional before they develop into action is a sign of progress, not failing resiliency.
“It’s time for schools to innovate to direct more funds to counseling centers–starting right here at AU.”
Our counseling center is at the heart of our campus. Through this office, students who previously may have been financially unable to get help can now access top tier counseling for free. Additionally, 59% of students who visit their college’s center report that counseling helped them remain in school. I’ve personally seen people who have been apprehensive about counseling in the past reach out to the Counseling Center upon arriving at AU. All this is so, so important. But there is a downside to the reduced stigma surrounding mental health on campus.
AU’s Counseling Center offers each student 6-8 sessions per year. You are not cut off after your eighth session due to some heartless Counseling Center capitalist agenda, but because there is such enormous demand for appointments. Eight sessions is hardly sufficient for someone seriously struggling with their mental health, but it’s the best that can be offered with current funding. Additionally, the growing clientele has encouraged unfortunate cuts. According to the American Philosophical Association, “76.6 percent of college counseling directors reported reducing the number of visit for non-crisis patients to cope with the increasing number of clients,” and other programs like training, outreach, and events previously organized by counseling centers have been scaled down.
The funding and staffing allotted to these institutions are based off of outdated statistics that are simply no longer valid. It’s time for schools to innovate to direct more funds to counseling centers – starting right here at AU.
I’m so proud that students on campus are speaking out about mental health in ways past generations never have. Remember: the employees of the Counseling Center are not to blame for their lack of resources. But it is equally important to know that if you are brave enough to ask for help, you deserve better than a two-week waiting list.