Wellness Center Adjusts to Increased Demand for Mental Health Resources

Elizabeth CzapskiLoyola’s Wellness Center, which has a locations on the Lake Shore and Water Tower Campuses, offers mental health resources for students.

Nationally, college students are more likely to use campus mental health resources compared to years past, a recent study showed. In response, Loyola’s Wellness Center staff has grown and adjusted its processes in order to assist more students, but some students say more needs to be done. 

The number of students who visited campus counseling centers nationally increased by more than 30 percent between the fall of 2009 and 2015, while college enrollment increased by five percent, according to a 2015 report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

In 2018, about 63 percent of students nationally reported feeling overwhelming anxiety and about 42 percent of students nationally reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function in the past year, according to a study by the American College Health Association.  

First-year Ellie Lisikiewicz, who studies political science and women and gender studies, said support for mental health in college is vital because students might need help managing new experiences.

“There’s a lot of changes and a lot of people go through a lot of different things,” Lisikiewicz, 19, said. “Sometimes, it’s really hard to keep up with all of that and I think it’s important [Loyola] has those resources available to us.”

David deBoer, associate director of Loyola’s Wellness Center, said the Wellness Center has seen similar increases in students seeking mental health services and an increase in students who arrive at Loyola already diagnosed with a mental illness.  

deBoer said the Wellness Center staff has increased in size gradually as a response to these trends. He said when he started in 2004, there were four staff members devoted to mental health; now there are 15. Similarly, DePaul University has 12 staff members for mental health services, according to its website.

The increase of students utilizing mental health resources could be due to better health education and better access to mental health care due to the Affordable Care Act, according to deBoer. 

In addition, deBoer said it’s possible more students have trouble with mental health due to the lasting effects of the Great Recession 10 years ago. 

“[The Great Recession] really put a premium on people’s sense of feeling like they really needed to perform extra well at school so they could get into the right college, so they could get the right job, so they could have the kind of economic security that was sort of threatened during the economic collapse,” deBoer said. 

deBoer also cited changes in parenting styles and an increase in technology usage as potential explanations but said there isn’t as much research to back these theories up. 

The process for a student seeking non-urgent mental health care at Loyola starts with a phone consultation. Then, the student is referred either to an on-campus professional for a maximum of eight counseling sessions or connected with the care manager to find treatment in the city for long-term help. Loyola also offers unlimited group therapy. 

deBoer said the Wellness Center’s process for mental health concerns is meant to connect students with help faster to maximize the number of students they can assist. 

A new role called “care manager” was created in 2017 to respond to the upward trends, according to deBoer. Ashley Edelstein, the Wellness Center’s care manager, works with a student to find a healthcare professional in the community who fits their needs and is covered by their insurance. 

“It is hard to figure out what steps to take to get to a therapist or how that would work,” Edelstein said. “My whole job, in my own mind, is to make it easier for students.”

DePaul University, Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago have similar processes. Other Jesuit universities also have similar models to Loyola, including Loyola University New Orleans, Santa Clara University and College of the Holy Cross. 

Creighton University offers both short and long-term counseling as part of its Jesuit mission to “care for the whole person,” according to its website.

Although the process might be quicker with phone consultations, some students, like first-year Lindsay Valero, said it could be faster. Valero, who studies marketing and management, said she waited a week for her initial consultation due to the number of students seeking help with mental health.

“I think the hardest part was just waiting so long for that initial interaction,” Valero, 18, said. “It’s hard to ask for help, so I think if the Wellness Center could do anything better it would just be to enact that first interaction as quickly as possible.”

Giovanni Hayes, a sophomore studying economics and political science, said the initial phone call could be stressful for students who might find it difficult to find a private space to talk. 

Sophomore Chloe Borcean, who’s studying neuroscience, said an initial meeting with faculty in person might make students feel more comfortable sharing their stories. 

Valero also said she would’ve preferred to meet with a therapist on campus and suggested the Wellness Center expand therapy resources. 

The Wellness Center is funded by student activity fees, deBoer said, so it doesn’t have the resources to hire enough therapists to offer long-term therapy to every student who wants it. He said short-term therapy allows the Wellness Center to help more students. 

“We’re in a large metropolitan area that has a lot of those services,” deBoer said. “Students are required to have health insurance, so we help them get connected to utilize those resources for folks that need specialty care.”

The initial consultation, meeting with the care manager and counseling at the Wellness Center are included in students’ tuition fees, but students and their insurance companies are responsible for the cost of outside treatment. 

Loyola’s student health insurance covers mental health treatment and students pay a copay for each session after they’ve met their deductible, like most other insurances, Edelstein said. 

If a student’s insurance doesn’t cover mental health treatment, Edelstein said she connects them to a therapist who operates with “Sliding Scale” pricing which allows students to pay lower fees, typically between $15 to $25 per session. 

The Wellness Center partners with multiple student organizations to promote awareness about mental health, including Wellness Advocates and Active Minds, according to deBoer. 

Borcean, Hayes and junior Klea Kahari, a 20-year-old molecular neuroscience major, started an on-campus chapter of the group We Are Able to start a discussion on accessibility issues and disability etiquette. 

For more information about the Wellness Center’s mental health resources and how to get help, students can visit its website.

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