The university has granted Loyola’s Wellness Center a new part-time mental-health position in order to accommodate the growing student body, according to Dr. David deBoer, the associate director of the Wellness Center and a licensed clinical psychologist.
With increasingly larger incoming freshman classes, clinical mental health visits have increased by about 15 percent from last year, according to deBoer.
“We’re trying to respond in real time to the demand as it presents itself,” he said. “Last spring, when we noticed that the enrollment was increasing by 500, we requested another position in order to accommodate the need that we knew would come.”
Mental illness in the United States is no small problem. There were 43.6 million U.S. adults living with a mental illness in 2014, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). That number constitutes 18.1 percent of all adults in the country, the NIMH reported.
Loyola’s response to this problem lies in its Wellness Center, which provides mental health counseling and resources to the Loyola community. The Wellness Center had 20,679 total visits during the 2014-15 school year, according to its website. Its mental health services include counseling, group therapy and access to a therapy dog, which is a black labrador retriever named Tivo.
The Wellness Center has grown in recent years. When deBoer first started 12 years ago, there were four staff members in the mental health department. Today, the Wellness Center has 14 staff members devoted to mental health, said deBoer. He called the growth “exciting” and said that the Wellness Center meets the standards for accreditation set by the International Association of Counseling Service (IACS). The minimum professional staff-to-student ratio is one per 1,000-1,500 students — the exact ratio “depending on services offered and other campus mental health agencies,” according to the IACS “Standards for University and College Counseling Services.” Loyola’s enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 16,422 students, based on the university’s latest enrollment report.
But one new part-time position might not be enough. Some students face roadblocks when seeking counseling at the Wellness Center because of the limited number of appointments available.
Michelle King, 21, contacted the Wellness Center her junior year in the fall of 2015, after her close friend was diagnosed with cancer.
“I reached out to the Wellness Center right around early- to mid-November, just to kind of talk through my anxieties, and I was not as focused on my studies as I felt that I normally was,” said the senior history major. “They didn’t have any availability for the rest of the semester, and so they referred me to someone in … Campus Ministries, but I’m not a very religious person, and so I felt uncomfortable pursuing that path.”
King called the Wellness Center a second time in February 2016 for grief counseling after her close friend passed away.
“There were some appointment availabilities, but [none] that would fit into my schedule, because [the therapist] was downtown and he knew that it was a time-sensitive issue,” she said. “We felt a decent connection on the phone, and so I met with him outside of his normal counseling hours downtown.”
King described her counseling experience as “helpful.”
If King were to rate the Wellness Center’s services from one to five, one being the worst and five being the best, she said she would give it a four out of five because of how helpful her therapist was. She would rate the system a two out of five for its “very limited scheduling abilities,” she said.
The scant availability of counselors confused King.
“You see so many of [the Wellness Center’s] different campaigns on campus to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself mentally as well, but if you don’t have the capacity to take care of the students, that seems a conflict of interest,” she said.
Jimmy Mann, a 20-year-old junior, went to the Wellness Center looking for counseling services at the beginning of the fall 2015 semester. Mann did not have to wait to see a counselor, but he was frustrated by the scheduling process. He was told to call instead of going to the Wellness Center in person. After calling, he waited one week to do an intake interview and another week to set up an appointment.
“Once I finally got in there, the process was very helpful. I liked the therapist I had; he was very supportive,” said the theatre and history double major, adding that the therapist did not try to be his friend, but [tried] to support him in an objective way. “I really liked [that] because that was what I needed,” he said.
After Mann had exhausted his number of sessions — the Wellness Center has a six- to eight-session limit on individual therapy, according to its website — he wanted to continue therapy. His therapist took down his insurance information and recommended other therapy options in the city.
“The thing was, all the people he recommended were downtown,” said Mann. “I haven’t been to anything since [then] because it’s just been a matter of scheduling.”
Overall, Mann said, the Wellness Center’s mental health counseling was a “very positive, helpful experience.” The only thing he would change would be “the stress getting in and coming out of it.”
Waiting lists are not uncommon on college campuses, and each semester has a “busy time,” said the Wellness Center’s deBoer.
“It is a … norm around college campuses that counseling centers around this time of year do have waiting lists for therapy, and that’s just a reality that we’re only so many people who can see only so many clients in a given week in a given hour,” deBoer said. “So, is it ideal? No, but in terms of trying to meet the needs of the many and see the students who have the most highest need kind of first, there is a kind of medical triage that we have to do.”
Each student seeking mental health services is assessed, deBoer said, to determine whether brief individual therapy would be the right treatment option. Sometimes, eligible students must be put on a waiting list.
If students want to be seen right away, deBoer said, the Wellness Center will refer them to providers in the community who will take their insurance.
“When someone is offered [a spot on the waiting list], they are also offered options for therapy in the community if they don’t want to wait, and they’re also typically offered group opportunities at the Wellness Center,” said deBoer.
“So, students are making a choice to wait, and that’s something that I think they should take some responsibility for, too,” he said. “But I don’t at all mean to sound unsympathetic to that distress; it’s something we’re always working [on] as hard as we can to move people from that waiting list onto a therapist’s schedule just as soon as we can.”
The Wellness Center is often looking for student input. Each year, the Wellness Center invites a representative from the Student Government Health and Wellness Committee to sit in on a quality committee meeting, according to deBoer.
The Wellness Center is working with student groups to “share with students what we do and what we offer, and also hear from students what the needs are and what the anticipated growth areas are that students would like to see.”