Counseling less accessible to those who need it most

By Copy editor

For students with anxiety, making a phone call can seem like the hardest thing in the world, yet help is only available after a series of phone calls.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety disorder affects 15 million American adults. People with social anxiety disorder can find it incredibly difficult to go on with daily life, especially those in college who are expected to be social in meeting new friends and networking with industry professionals. Social anxiety can be minor, but in certain cases, even picking up the phone can be a daunting task.

Known as “phone anxiety,” this symptom of social anxiety disorder makes phone calls seem overwhelming and nearly impossible, causing those afflicted to avoid all such calls, even those necessary to their daily life.

Phone anxiety is a largely unknown phenomenon of recent emergence, as cell phones—arguably the preferred communication method of modern Americans—have only been around for about 20 years. Phone anxiety affects a portion of those 15 million people with social anxiety disorder, as well as many without any diagnosed mental illness, but this problem has not received the attention it deserves. 

Columbia offers students 10 free counseling sessions a year at the Health Center, 731. S. Plymouth Court, to help those who suffer from anxiety and other mental illnesses cope, but the process itself is hindering students with phone anxiety from getting the help they need.

To arrange an appointment with a counselor, students must call the office and schedule a 15-minute phone consultation with a therapist about appropriate services. This gives therapists an idea of their patients’ needs ands level of urgency but the idea of planning a phone call to tell a stranger about experiencing mental illness can be terrifying for students—with or without a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

According to writer Margarita Tartakovsky of PsychCentral, college-aged people are more likely to develop anxiety disorders than any other demographic in America. Colleges need to be better prepared for dealing with these symptoms and should offer care in ways that are sensitive to their clients’ needs.

Most local colleges fail to recognize this. DePaul University also requires phone call appointments before a student can see a counselor. The University of Illinois at Chicago offers on-site appointment scheduling, which can be a better alternative for those who do not want to speak on the phone. However, this could be inconvenient for students living off-campus or those who are busy with personal lives, classes and work.

Loyola University, on the other hand, uses an online appointment scheduling system that can be accessed using a student’s university login in addition to a phone call system, providing students with a choice of appointment methods.

Columbia offers counseling sessions that do not require appointments or phone consultations, like “Emotions: What Am I Feeling And How Do I Cope?” and “Navigating Healthy Relationships,” but those are group sessions, which might deter some students. These should not be students’ only options because a group setting may be too intimidating to talk about anything personal. 

Students who feel they are in immediate to danger can come in to the counseling center immediately for an emergency session, or call one of the specialized hotlines listed on the Columbia website. However, social anxiety disorder is chronic rather than acute condition that keeps sufferers from doing the things they love or need to do, inhibiting them from seeking help for the very reason they need it.

Columbia has a responsibility to these students to help them get the counseling they need. This can be accomplished by implementing an online appointment system and eliminating the need for a pre-counseling phone interview so that students feel comfortable with the process that aims to make them feel more comfortable about their lives. The college claims it will get us ready for the real world, and now is the time to show it.