Students have a lot to say about mental health services on campus and counselors are all ears
The university’s Center for Counseling and Student Development (CCSD) hosted an open forum Wednesday night in the Perkins Student Center’s Bacchus Theater for students passionate about mental health on campus.
The event, titled “Tell Us How You Really Feel,” gave students a platform to share their thoughts on CCSD’s services and how it could ease the barriers they face when seeking help.
A tough obstacle for students is not knowing what to expect. Many worry that counseling will not be confidential and counselors may inform parents of their child’s conditions.
Mary Anne Lacour, the clinical coordinator and associate director of CCSD, assured those at her table that counselors cannot call parents without permission unless students hurt themselves.
“We can’t call parents,” Lacour said. “We can’t call friends, and if professors call us, we can’t tell them.”
However, counselors in the past have pushed students to call their parents before they feel ready, adding extra stress to their situations, Promoters of Wellness and Active Minds representatives said.
Nicole Lovitch, the wellness speaker series coordinator for Promoters of Wellness, said she sought therapy as a freshman due to her anxiety disorder, but her counselor’s only course of action was pressuring her to call her mother.
“She was basically saying, ‘I can’t give you the support you need. You should call your mom,’” Lovitch, a senior health behavior science major, said. “I thought, ‘I want an outside person to talk to right now and that should be you.’”
Another grievance with the CCSD has been their quickness to refer students to off-campus counseling.
Nikki Lupo, the president of Active Minds at the university, said she sought counseling her freshman year after being sexually assaulted, but the center referred her elsewhere.
“The reason they were getting at for turning me away was that the troubles I was facing would need more long term support than what they could offer me,” Lupo, a senior psychology and criminal justice double major, said. “I did have a second appointment to go through different referral options, but most were far off campus and I didn’t have my car. It didn’t leave me with many options.”
The CCSD offers students 12 sessions per semester, but only for one semester per year.
“We see folks for about a semester and they can do that for each academic year, at least that’s how we’re operating right now,” Lacour said. “Groups don’t count in that limit. Someone could do a round of therapy and then they could go into a group and be a part of it every semester they’re here.”
After students shared their experiences, counselors asked what they wanted to see moving forward.
Lupo recommended that the CCSD initiate a program similar to BetterMynd, a therapy program featuring different specializations of counselors such as those that represent a certain gender, race, ethnicity or suffer from a specific trauma so that people can find someone specifically catered to their needs.
“What I like about BetterMynd is it’s also virtual, and they have late-night hours,” Lupo said. “Athletes, for example, have so much going on between their sports and academics. By the time their hours would permit them to go to the counseling center, it’s already closed.”
She also suggested they email a weekly newsletter that includes information about mental health events taking place on campus, a journal prompt to give students something to write about if they wish, and a “coping mechanism of the week.”
Lovitch proposed that the center combat “post-recruitment blues” by offering group sessions to those who recently rushed for a Greek life organization. She also suggested expanding Fresh Check Day, an event dedicated to promoting mental health, to both semesters instead of just spring.
One shared aspect students like about the counseling center is that its location on campus is accessible for students. However, its current location between the Dunkin Donuts and the West Lounge of Perkins might turn some students away as others getting food or doing work crowd the area.
People generally tend to keep their feelings to themselves, and the big sign hanging above the stairs that reads “Counseling Center” adds to their anxieties.
“I think it only comes with your comfortability to say ‘I know this is the right decision for me and I don’t care if someone sees me walk up a flight of stairs,’” Samantha Fern, a junior psychology major and health promotion assistant for Promoters of Wellness, said. “But I totally get where that fear comes from and it can be scary.”
The university plans on moving the counseling center to Warner Hall, which used to be the campus’ only all-women’s dorm. However, renovations will not be completed until 2021 at the earliest.
In the meantime, an alternative to climbing those steps is to use the elevator instead. Students can enter on the basement floor if the main floor entrance next to the printers is too populated.
While time constraints and a lack of resources limit the CCSD from taking on long-term patients, it offers a variety of sessions this semester. Events such as Fresh Check Day and drop-in hours for students of color and members of the LGBT+ community.
The UD Helpline 24/7/365, offered through the University of Delaware’s Division of Student Life, provides live counseling assistance over the phone at (302) 831-1001.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential support for those in distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Lifeline can be reached at 1(800) 273-8255.