Colleges could improve counseling

By Editorial Board

As the number of young adults enrolling in higher education continues to rise, the need for colleges to provide adequate services for students with mental illness has increased.

Like most institutions, Columbia offers various forms of counseling to its students. The office of Counseling Services provides them with a maximum of 10 free individual sessions per academic year and an unlimited number of group therapy sessions. Although Columbia does offer those services, they can be better advertised to students, and the number of sessions provided is inadequate to truly help a student struggling with mental ills.

Suicide rates among young adults ages 15–24 have tripled since the 1950s, according to the American College Health Association. A survey of 16,000 students showed that 9.5 percent of students have seriously contemplated suicide and 1.5 percent have made an attempt.

This is possibly because many mental illnesses typically emerge around ages 18–24—the time many individuals are matriculating through higher education, according to the Jed Foundation, an organization that promotes mental health awareness among college students. Entering college marks a shift from being dependent on family to developing autonomy. It is often students’ first extended time away from home and, for some, the stress of the experience can trigger mental illness. Given the increase in the student population, colleges are struggling to provide adequate counseling services, with 76 percent of college counseling service directors reporting they had to limit patient visits to accommodate more students, according to a 2011 American Psychological Association article.

The number of services colleges should provide has been debated. Some therapists say it is the duty of the college to help its students while others argue that the college’s responsibility does not extend beyond education and safety. Looking at the number of sessions Columbia provides to students, it is likely unable to deliver adequate care for someone suffering from significant mental health issues and those people are routinely referred to other providers. That is the best option for students who suffer from chronic mental illness. Ten individual sessions are insufficient to diagnose and treat all but the most minor problems. The limited number of sessions could not allow a therapist to truly gauge a student’s individual problems. By comparison, Roosevelt University provides weekly individual sessions that last 45–50 minutes, among other types of counseling. This is significantly more than what Columbia offers, but Columbia would be on par with other neighboring institutions if the number of free sessions was slightly increased.

The college’s service offerings are considerate and admirable in light of the tight budget, but the college could better advertise those services to students. On average, Columbia students only use six of the 10 available free sessions, as reported in the article on Page 8. There are Counseling Services advertisements throughout Columbia’s campus, but it would likely be more efficient to also take the outreach online. The office does have a Facebook page, but it is not a very active one. It would be beneficial for Counseling Services to actively update its Facebook page and to even send out emails to students’ loop mail accounts on a weekly basis. Most students do not live in the dorms, so reaching out digitally can ensure that the entire Columbia community is aware of its services.

Admittedly, there is only so much Columbia or any college can do to help a student suffering from mental illness, and at the end of the day, those who receive counseling are the ones who seek it. But there is also more that Columbia and all colleges can do to help those who may have nowhere else to turn. Raising awareness about available services helps the student body to be safer and healthier.