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Mental Health Services at Ohio University adapting to increase in demand

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Ohio University College Green. Photo by The New Political.

This year, 31% more Ohio University students utilized drop-in counseling at Hudson Health Center by week ten compared to 2017, according to Paul Castelino, director of counseling and psychological services at Hudson Health Center.

Last year, students made more than 7,000 appointments with counseling services by week ten of the fall semester. This year, that number was more than 8,000.

“There is more education, more awareness about mental health and more push towards treatment, so more people are seeking help,” Castelino said. “So, we see an increase in the demand for services because of that.”

More students are coming to college with diagnosed disorders as well, according to Castelino. 

Castelino said the stressors of college — transitioning to adulthood, moving away from home and leaving a social circle — can lead to stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression.

In recent years, Ohio U’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) has made changes to its staff and services to reflect the high demand for services among the student population. 

Response to Demand

Three years ago, CPS added five new staff positions with funding from the university. CPS was struggling at the time to see all the visiting students, Castelino said.

At CPS, sixteen counselors, three doctoral interns, two clinical graduate students and five trainees provide counseling.

Currently, if a student is seeking individual therapy, they can meet with a counselor on a biweekly basis. CPS has offered weekly counseling, but due to the volume of students seeking services, the frequency of sessions was reduced.

“If we saw weekly, for example, we probably would be full by the fourth or fifth week of the semester, and we wouldn’t be able to see any new students coming in after that,” Castelino said. “We also see that as a national trend. That’s a trend in the community as well. The traditional way of weekly therapy is slowly slipping away, not only at OU, but nationally.”

Students still face a wait time to receive scheduled counseling appointments.

“If somebody came in at the beginning of the semester, the wait might be a week or two. If somebody comes in now (week ten) or toward the semester, it could be three to four weeks really,” Castelino said.

However, if a student is in severe need of assistance, or in crisis such as suicidal thoughts, they will be prioritized to receive help sooner. Students in crisis could be seen multiple times during a week if needed. 

CPS trains employed students, who can counsel drop-in sessions and may provide counseling to clients with less complicated issues, such as homesickness and mild to moderate depression. 

“We also train masters and doctoral students at OU graduate programs … clinical psychology, counselor education and social work programs,” Castelino said. “We train them to become good mental health professionals.”

However, as counselors must work with trainees, it does reduce the time available for students to receive counseling services. 

Student Perspective

Kaitlyn Booher, Honors Tutorial College senator and assistant chief of staff on Student Senate, has worked with mental health services through the senate and has utilized the services herself. 

Booher experienced sexual assault during her senior year of high school. The trauma negatively impacted her mental health, which led her to use CPS, she said.

Booher first went to “Let’s Talk Hours” at the Living Learning Center and later to drop-ins at CPS.

As a first-year, Booher confided in her resident director and resident assistant who identified that Booher’s situation warranted priority counseling. She met with her resident director weekly while waiting to see a counselor at CPS.

Booher said that her relationship with her resident director and resident assistant was “… an experience that most other students don’t necessarily have or know that they can have.”

Currently, she has ten therapy sessions a semester with a counselor and meets with a psychiatrist through CPS.

“I don’t ever want to discourage someone from going to CPS ‘cause it’s difficult, because I have found it very helpful, but I had to go through several different counselors,” Booher said. 

Emilee Caudill, a sophomore studying strategic communications, also uses CPS services. Initially, she did not feel comfortable using CPS. 

“I actually had a really bad first experience,” Caudill said. 

She went for a drop-in session during the middle of the fall semester last year when many students were using services. According to Caudill, the counselor asked if she was suicidal, and when Caudill said no, she was told suicidal students had priority. 

She gave her email to CPS to be contacted about individual appointments and never heard back.

“I was really upset because I feel like I’m paying a lot of money to come here. I felt like if I needed help I should get help; I shouldn’t have to wait until I’m suicidal to get help, so it was horrible,” Caudill said. 

Caudill went to the Survivor’s Advocacy Program, which provides support for those that have been victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking or domestic/dating violence because she had experienced sexual assault earlier that year. 

“They were fantastic. The best resource on campus, in my opinion,” Caudill said. 

A member of the Survivor’s Advocacy Program walked Caudill to CPS and spoke about the severity of Caudill’s situation. She eventually received individual therapy until she could be placed in group therapy. 

Caudill said she was nervous for group therapy, thinking it would be with 20 students or more, but it was with five other girls who had similar experiences. She called the group a family. 

“They’re the people you can tell anything to,” Caudill said. “I had a really bad first impression of CPS, but throughout this year, I’ve had nothing but good experiences.”

Both Booher and Caudill personally believe CPS is underfunded. Booher also believes services are not as accessible to students as they could be.

“If you are a student who’s already struggling at a low point and you’re really confused about the process, I think it’s not very clear,” Booher said. “I think it’s very complicated to understand what is anonymous and what isn’t anonymous.”

Within Student Senate, Booher is working to increase CPS’s advertisements aimed at students by mandating mental health services to be listed on syllabi for classes through legislation.

Booher encouraged students to take advantage of both drop-ins and “Let’s Talk Hours,”  as well as to connect with a trusted adult, such as a resident director, resident assistant or professor.

At “Let’s Talk Hours” students do not need an appointment and can meet with a counselor for as long as they need, Justin Wheeler, a clinical social worker and therapist at CPS said.

“‘Let’s talk hours,’ or Counselor in Residence as it’s sometimes called, is just a way for people who are having an immediate concern, or an immediate stressor or just need support quickly can access that really easily outside of when CPS proper and Hudson are here, open,” Wheeler said.

Caudill understands the prioritization that led to her first negative impression in CPS. 

“I would rather them talk to people who are suicidal first because you can’t get someone back once they’re to that point,” she said. “But I do think that they could do a better job at making students feel important the second that they walk in the door.”

Caudill stressed that students struggling with mental health in college should seek help and be resilient.

“Hiding behind a false idea that you’re okay is just going to make you worse. Accept the fact that you’re in college, you’re in one of the hardest times of your life, and maybe the best four years of your life, it’s also probably going to be one of the hardest experiences you ever face,” Caudill said. “The sooner you get help, the sooner you’re going to be able to focus on your degree, you’re going to focus on the reason why you’re here.”

Mental Health Services Offered

The recommended first step to receive psychological services is drop-in counseling. 

Students do not schedule appointments for a drop-in. They are given paperwork, which Castelino estimates takes about 20 minutes to fill out, and meet with a counselor for 30 minutes.

Castelino said during a drop-in session, students will discuss with a counselor, “why they’re coming in, what’s going on, and sometimes we might even problem-solve some of the issues they’re coming in already and then determine what the treatment options are.”

A counselor may recommend individual therapy, group therapy or single-session therapy for a short-term issue. Students also receive a handout for a coping clinic — a workshop where students learn skills to handle common stressors and issues in college. To attend, students only need to show up and sign with their name and PID number.

“For drop in counseling, it’s unlimited. Students can keep coming back as many times as they need to,” said Castelino.

Wheeler, a clinical social worker and therapist at CPS, leads a coping clinic on Thursdays. Wheeler plans possible topics for each session, then determines what to focus on by surveying the needs of the group. 

Wheeler said between two and ten students typically attend his clinic. The group setting can help students feel less alone, but the clinics are not similar to group therapy sessions, he said.

“We’re not going to necessarily get into the finer details of someone’s experience of anxiety, or someone’s not necessarily going to share their trauma history in a coping clinic,” Wheeler said.  

Coping clinics began last year, and the program has expanded to four sessions per week this year. The clinics were created as an alternative to individual therapy and because CPS offers short-term treatment, Wheeler said.

“We want to make sure we have … other types of safety nets in place and mechanism in place to make sure students who need more services can access those,” Wheeler said. 

If a student is seeking weekly counseling or needs services not offered at Hudson, the care manager can advise them on outside alternatives. Typically, those services require payment, but Ohio U does not normally charge for CPS.

CPS created a database online for students to locate off-campus services.

“The reason we have these multiple access points … such as Let’s Talk hours in the evening or drop in hours and Coping Clinic during the day, [is to] make sure that students have timely access to the services they need,” Castelino said.

Other Campus Resources

Booher and Caudill recommended the Surivor’s Advocacy Program for students who experienced sexual assault, domestic or dating violence or sexual harassment. Advocates are not mandated reporters, which means they do not need to report sexual misconduct to Ohio U for an investigation. Students can drop-in to the office to talk about their own experience or that of someone they know. 

Booher said the Office of University Equity and Civil Rights Compliance is another resource important for students. The office handles concerns of discrimination and harassment based on race, gender or sexual orientation. 

Booher recommended the Bobcat Safe App, an app that allows students to directly contact the Ohio University Police Department, as well as the Welltrack App, which allows a user to monitor their mental health. 

Get Help

Drop-in counseling is located on the third floor of the Hudson Health Center. Students can walk in between 9:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Coping Clinics are offered four times a week. Students can walk in for an hour-long clinic at Hudson Health Center at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesdays, 1:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and 11:00 a.m. on Fridays. A clinic is also available in the CPS Annex 052 of Lindley Hall at 2:00 p.m. on Thursdays.

“Let’s Talk Hours” are located at the Living Learning Center on South Green near the Ping Recreation Center. Students can walk in between 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Sunday through Friday.

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