As more and more college students report they feel stressed, depressed and anxious — no doubt in part due to the rigors of university life — Loyola’s Wellness Center has been trying to catch up to accommodate increasing demand and help students in need.
The problem is — unless it dedicates far more staff — it can’t.
The number of students who used campus counseling services increased by 30 percent nationally from 2009 to 2015, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.
And, last year, nearly 63 percent of students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety and 42 percent reported they felt so depressed in interfered with daily life, according to a study by the American College Health Association.
Since 2004, Loyola’s Wellness Center has gradually increased its staff to deal with these troubling trends, upping its mental health staff from four to 15, but it’s clear the Wellness Center alone isn’t equipped to adequately treat the rising numbers of students who need help.
Right from the start, Loyola’s process is difficult for students who need mental health help.
First, students have a phone evaluation from a Wellness Center staff person. Those calls must be scheduled often a week in advance due to the volume of requests. In the life of a college student specifically, a lot can change in a week, meaning this lag time could potentially be detrimental.
Then, even if Loyola determines a student could benefit from short term mental health care sessions, it only allows up to eight sesions per student. If it’s determined someone needs long term care, the Wellness Center will try to find them an outside therapist covered by their insurance.
But that can be costly, while short term Wellness Center visits are covered by tuition. These outside options can also require students to travel in order to get to their appointments, while the Wellness Center is located conveniently on campus.
With the amount of Wellness Center congestion increasing with trends, it’s futile for Loyola to try to catch up and costly for the Wellness Center. As much as this Editorial Board has criticized Loyola, it has added a care manager dedicated to helping the long term patients now so the mental health social workers are more freed up. But still, Loyola’s budgetary strategies aren’t aimed toward creating more positions.
One solution, while posing challenges, is to get to bigger groups of students at once through a mental health core class for every Loyola undergraduate.
Similar to UNIV 101, the new requirement could be a one credit course with a variety of options. These could include classes on coping and stress techniques, brain chemistry, psychology, yoga, stretching or mindfulness. There are many possibilities for what to include, as students badly need many of these.
The goal would be to help large swaths of students with the mental health issues many develop later into their college careers. These courses would help them recognize the signs in themselves and others. Even if students don’t personally deal with common mental health challenges, everyone can benefit from understanding more about the brain and how we process certain information and experiences.
Additionally, it can help make that first step easier for many students — who are already struggling with stress — to reach out to the Wellness Center or just silently absorb the information. If students already have a personal relationship with someone there, then the first step isn’t nearly as daunting.
But this wouldn’t necessarily increase the burden for Wellness Center staff, as a class like this — teaching coping mechanisms and methods to handle stress — could mitigate many of the potential mental health issues later on.
The problem is this could easily go wrong. A class like this, if done poorly, could turn into little more than a waste of time for first-years.
It’s no secret that many students see UNIV 101 as a waste of time, and this could well be the fate of a class like this. That is why it’s vital for any class like this to be taught by those who know the topic well.
To do it well, a class like this would need actual health professionals or psychology professors, not just barely trained academic advisors.
This class could bring compassion and understanding to the university, possibly enhancing the results of bystander training.
All students, not just those who go to the Wellness Center, need to hear what Loyola’s mental health professionals have to say. When an ever increasing number of students commit suicide, this message is too important to ignore.
The involvement of active professionals in the class would likely cause students to invest more energy, effort and interest in the course.
As a one-credit course, the class wouldn’t add too much to the first-year workload, but would help them gain a better grasp on mental health. In other words: the potential benefit for students throughout college — not to mention the rest of their lives — is well worth one credit-hour.
If done well, it could help cure the Wellness Center’s issues with overflow, help more students and potentially save people from suicide.