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Wellness Center To Add 2 New Counseling Positions

Courtesy of Loyola University ChicagoThe Wellness Center has 15 staff members to service Loyola’s 12,200 undergraduates.

When junior Miranda Betancourt first came to Loyola from Puerto Rico, she said she struggled with anxiety while adjusting to a new environment.

“I struggled with anxiety but I’d never really gotten help for it,” the 20-year-old theater major said. “My parents had struggled with anxiety too so we felt like we could handle it. But it got to a point where I was like, ‘Okay, I should probably go to the Wellness Center.’”

Betancourt isn’t alone.

From 2013 to 2018, the percentage of undergraduate Loyola students who reported being “diagnosed with mental health conditions in the past 12 months” more than doubled — from 13.2 percent to 26.8 percent — according to David de Boer, director of counseling services at the Wellness Center.

Between those years, the percentage of students who reported being diagnosed with depression rose from 11.4 percent to 21.8 percent, de Boer said.

In order to meet the growing needs of students, Loyola’s Wellness Center — which provides medical, mental and physical health services to students — is in the process of recruiting two new mental health counselors, according to de Boer.

Some Loyola students told The Phoenix last semester scheduling an initial appointment with a counselor should be more efficient. One student said she waited one week in between her phone consultation and her actual appointment, while another said she waited one month.

At Loyola, there have been 27 hospitalizations related to mental health between July 1 and the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 5, according to Amber Miller, Loyola’s assistant dean of students.

Miller said Loyola’s previous process made it difficult to pull data regarding hospitalizations — which are transitioning into the new database — but said in an email to The Phoenix, “From what I can gather, the number of this year’s hospital transports is higher than in semesters past.” The new case-management system was implemented July 1, Miller said.

Loyola’s new counselors are meant to “meet students where they’re literally at” by working in offices around campus other than the Wellness Center, de Boer said.

The first position being added is a staff counselor for diversity, inclusion and social justice initiatives. The counselor will be located in the Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA) office in the Damen Student Center.

The counselor will be a part of and work with the Wellness Center staff, but most of their services will be provided in the SDMA office. Their position will involve outreach work, presentations, consultations with staff, individual counseling and hosting support groups and mental health workshops.

“It really represents a significant and major investment that the administration is making in student mental health, and responding to the needs that are being expressed by students … and the rising rates of anxiety and depression,” de Boer said.

“Historically … students of color sometimes express higher rates of stigma about seeking mental health services,” de Boer said. “And so the more we can reduce any barriers that there are to seeking our services … that’s one reason we’re there.”

The burden of stigma can contribute to increased rates of mental health problems, according to a study published in March 2019 by Psychiatry Online, citing reports of higher rates of psychiatric symptoms yet lower rates of diagnoses among racial-ethnic minority groups.

“This may be especially true for students from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, for whom specific stressors — such as discrimination and impostor syndrome — can contribute to increased rates of mental health problems,” the study reads.

Tenzing Sherpa, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience, works with first-year students of color through SDMA. She said some students are hesitant to visit the Wellness Center because they’re worried counselors won’t fully understand their identities, backgrounds and experiences as students of color.

“You wouldn’t want to talk to [a counselor] who doesn’t share the same identity as you,” Sherpa, 19, said.

Sherpa said she thinks the Wellness Center does a great job, but there’s also “a lack of awareness and communication” between itself and the student body. She said having a counselor in the SDMA office is a great idea because it means students will have a “familiar face” to connect to the Wellness Center.

The second counselor will work primarily in the Sullivan Center with academic advisors, tutors, students within the Student Accessibility Center — which provides on-campus support and accommodations for students with disabilities — and other student support offices, including the Office of First-Year Experience and the Financial Aid Office. The counselor will also work on training and coaching for peer tutors, academic advisors and other staff.

“A lot of people get referred to us who are seeking additional academic support at the Sullivan Center, through the various offices there, whether it’s academic advising or the Student Accessibility Center or the Tutoring Center,” de Boer said.

The Sullivan Center staff often refers students to the Wellness Center without knowing if they go after referral, so the new on-site position is to make it easier for students to get help, de Boer said.

Similarly to universities in the area, such as DePaul University and Northwestern University, Loyola offers short-term individual psychotherapy — treating mental health issues by talking with a mental health professional.

If a student needs longer-term therapy, they’re referred to counselors in the community, according to de Boer.

De Boer, a licensed clinical psychologist, said when he started at the Wellness Center in 2004, the staff was comprised of four people. Since then, it has increased to 15 staff members — made up of psychologists, social workers, counselors and a full-time psychiatrist. This number doesn’t account for the two new positions or the two counselors who work at Arrupe College — Loyola’s two-year associate degree program designed for students to graduate with little to no debt.

The Wellness Center’s 15 staff members serve a student body of more than 12,200 undergraduate students, according to Loyola’s website.

In comparison to other schools in the area, DePaul University has 13 staff members for about 14,500 undergraduate students and Northwestern University has 31 staff members for about 8,200 undergraduate students, among over 16,700 total students on its Evanston campus.

“It really represents a significant and major investment that the administration is making in student mental health, and responding to the needs that are being expressed by students … and the rising rates of anxiety and depression,” de Boer said.

The new counselors will be available to students as soon as next semester, depending on the recruiting process, he said.

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