A clear divide in perception: Inside the new university crisis hotline
Between Aug. 28 and Dec. 23, the UD Helpline, a call service that was put in place over the summer to provide students with a resource to receive counsel in times of distress, has received 433 calls.
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
After Charles Beale sits in his office rattling off statistics about the stigma of collegiate mental health for 20 minutes, he makes a quick detour to the supply shop to grab a few items. Beale, the Director of the university’s Center for Counseling and Student Development, returns to his office with a frisbee, poster, stress ball, pen and the most coveted item for students living in a residence hall –– the One Card holders for cell phones.
He shows off these marketing tools, all of which highlight the number, 302-831-1001, the new hotline created over the summer to provide students a chance to talk to someone immediately in times of distress and get help.
While it has only been in service for six months, the number that has been dubbed the UD Helpline is, according to Beale, well on its way towards a successful first year. He said the number has received 433 calls in the 2016 period between Aug. 28 and Dec. 23, far more than he predicted.
When students call this number, they can press 1 for Sexual Offense Support (SOS) or 2 for counseling support. If they want to talk to SOS, the clinician will hang up the phone after taking the client’s information and an SOS advocate will call them back within ten minutes. If they call during business hours and want to talk to a counselor, they will be directly referred to the counseling center. During off hours, they’ll be able to talk with a clinician over the phone and have the option to set up an appointment at the counseling center the following day.
“We only budgeted for 50 calls a month because we figured that would do it. Well, it’s been over that, which is great, absolutely great,” Beale said. “Of those 433 calls, there are different categories. They categorize the calls as urgent, routine or emergent –– there’s only two of those all semester. About 26 percent of them were urgent calls and 72 percent routine.”
Beale continued, emphasizing the hard data –– 68 percent students followed up and came into the counseling center after calling the helpline, 64 percent of them had never been to the center before, 28 percent were first year students, 21 percent sophomores, 13 percent for both juniors and seniors –– but when asked if he thinks he and his team have succeeded in connecting with students by informing and educating them about the new helpline, he paused.
“I do, but I can always be wrong,” Beale said. “It’s a constant challenge to be out there and let students be aware of the counseling center. I think that they’re aware of this because these [posters] were all in the residence halls, through the training, we gave them to academic advisors, there was a blitz. They’re on the buses. I think they’re aware of it.”
According to Beale, freshmen living in residence halls are the most aware of the helpline –– they are fresh into a new environment, constantly exposed by their resident assistants to a plethora of opportunities on campus. But walk into a freshmen residence hall during RA office hours and chat with some residents. That notion may be royally dismissed.
“I haven’t heard much. I haven’t heard a lot,” freshman Michael Loseto said. “I’ve heard of it, I’ve walked past the signs, but I don’t know about it. I don’t know what it entails.”
Loseto detailed that on move-in day in August, he inputted a few new numbers into his phone, including those for Facilities, Student Health and the UD Helpline, but he remains unaware about the purpose and process of the helpline.
“I know that there’s a help center, but not specifically about the helpline,” freshman Nikita Favarolo said. “I’ve seen the posters by the elevator, but I have no idea if it’s connected to the health center.”
If, according to Beale, the 433 calls are a measurement for success, then Loseto and Favarolo prove there’s a whole second layer of success that can be measured. Among university employees, however, the approval rating of the helpline is very high –– Beale said he’s received strong feedback from faculty and staff.
SOS coordinator Angela Seguin, for instance, is particularly complimentary of the helpline, especially when it comes to advertising and marketing.
“SOS’ new poster series this year has received a great deal of positive feedback and may have contributed to a sense of trust and confidence in SOS to help survivors while also promoting how to access an advocate,” Seguin said. “We believe that the extensive advertising of the Helpline, provided both by SOS and by the Center for Counseling & Student Development, likely increased students’ awareness of the Helpline options.”
According to Seguin, the greatest effect of the new helpline on SOS is that rather than having different phone numbers for Student Health Services (which formerly connected callers to SOS), the counseling center and Public Safety, there is now only one number that is the continual access point. Yet there is a striking difference in student versus staff perception of the helpline.
“For mental health? I’m not exactly sure what happens when you call,” freshman RA candidate Heli Palttala said. “We have a poster on our hall, but then again I’m the only one who pays attention to the flyers on the walls so I feel like most people don’t even notice.”
Four-hundred thirty-three is a great number of calls received by the hotline, said Beal, and a great start to the system. Hard data flourishes in his office, but when it comes to soft data, he couldn’t specify if he is sure the university community is connected and aware of this new hotline.
“It’s kept us busy,” Beale said. “I’ve gotten good feedback from faculty and staff throughout the university. There’s been some glitches but nothing of significance. Can we do a better job and do we need to continue to work at it? Absolutely.”