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Psychological crises afflict universities

Students across America are more often seeking counseling for problems beyond post-relationship trauma
Monday, November 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:11 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

More students are coming to MU in need of counseling center services for problems such as depression, anxiety and stress, said Kathleen Boggs, director of the MU Counseling Center.

“More students are coming to campus with affective disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder,” Boggs said. “In addition, we also see students with anxiety, stress and personality disorders.”

The counseling center’s last slot for initial assessment appointments for the semester was filled on Oct. 31. Boggs said that at this time during the year, the initial assessment appointments are usually filled for the semester, but that the center’s staff is seeing more students coming to campus needing their services.

Colleges and universities throughout the country are noticing a similar trend. More students are seeking help from counseling centers than have in the past, and these students have more serious problems than they used to.

For example, a 2003 study at Kansas State University examined changes in counseling center problems over 13 years, from 1988 to 2001. The study found that up until 1994, relationship problems were the most common reason students visited the center at Kansas State.

During 1994, stress and anxiety became the No. 1 problem, which was still the case in 2001 at the conclusion of the study. Sherry A. Benton, one of the lead authors of the study, said that since the study relationships have fallen to third, after depression. The top problem is still stress and anxiety.

Maggie Olona, director of the Student Counseling Service at Texas A&M University, said her counseling center saw a 200 percent increase in the number of crises ­— that is, an issue that the student or a counselor thinks requires immediate attention — during September 2004 compared to the previous year. Olona said the highest number of crises in one week that her center has seen this semester is 34.

Robert Gallagher’s 2004 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors found that 10 percent of students at the schools surveyed sought counseling services the previous year. (For more results, see study highlights above.)

Another survey, a spring 2004 survey of college students by the American College Health Association, found that 26 percent of female and 20 percent of male students surveyed had felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function three or more times in the previous year.

The study also found that 11 percent of female students surveyed and 9 percent of male students surveyed said they had seriously considered suicide in the previous year.

Linda M. Cox, director of the Counseling Center at the University of Illinois, said that more and more people are asking for counseling services from the university’s center and that she and her staff feel “like we’re struggling to keep our heads above water.”

Cox speculated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may have affected students. Cox also said she thinks this generation of college students are more achievement-oriented than in the past but are not as skilled at managing frustration and disappointment, so depression and anxiety are the end result.

Benton, assistant director of Kansas State’s counseling service, also said student stress levels are higher than ever. She attributed this stress to students taking more class hours and internships, joining more clubs and groups on campus, and trying to work more hours — all at the same time.

Students in dire need this semester will be helped by the MU Counseling Center, Boggs said.

“While initial assessment appointments may be booked for the rest of the semester, we are always ready to help with crisis situations, as determined by the student,” Boggs said.

If a student comes into the counseling center for an initial assessment appointment from now until the end of the semester, the psychologists will assess the student’s situation and determine what is the best mode of treatment, Boggs said. This includes immediate intervention, an outside referral, or a suggestion to schedule a counseling appointment for the beginning of the semester.

Boggs said the counseling center staff will get students who have already signed up for an initial assessment in to start ongoing counseling within seven to 10 days after their initial appointment.

The International Association of Counseling Services recommends that counseling centers have one psychologist or professional staff member for every 1,000 to 1,500 students on campus, depending on the services offered there and other mental health agencies on campus.

Currently there are eight psychologists on staff at MU, Boggs said; 1.25 of these psychologists serve faculty and staff, which means there are about seven available to serve students. There are 26,662 undergraduate and graduate students on campus for MU’s fall 2005 semester (another 1,323 are online students). This means that the center has one psychologist for about every 3,800 students — significantly more than the recommendation.

“In order to help with this situation, counseling center staff went before the Student Fee Review Committee to seek an increase in our budget,” Boggs said.

The Student Fee Committee made a recommendation, but it still needs to pass the Missouri Students Association Senate and the Graduate Professional Council General Assembly before seeking approval from the University of Missouri Board of Curators.


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