By CHASE GORSKI
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 22 percent of adults within the age group of 18 and 25 were affected by any mental illness in 2016.
These numbers have grown exponentially over the last decade, thus increasing the need for counseling services on campuses across the nation.
In an already stressful environment as a student, these services can prove to be very valuable for those in need of them. While this issue has become more prevalent over the years, Salisbury University’s Counseling Center has struggled to keep up with demand.
“The severity and complexity of problems that students are having has increased significantly since 2000,” Director of the Counseling Center Dr. Kathleen Scott said. “In 2007, we had 360 come in for counseling and last year we had 578, so it has really grown just in terms of people using the services.”
With this greater demand including more difficult cases, the Counseling Center has had difficulty with a shortage of staff leading to increased waiting times for students as well as less available appointments.
This has led to students associated with the Student Government Association (SGA) to take matters into their own hands. Vice President Ben Lenox and Chief and Staff Jill Scott have worked with the Counseling Center as well as other students to create a student petition to expand the center.
The online petition, which is being circulated through Involved@SU, makes direct comparisons between the status of the university in 2001 and now. As SU’s student population has risen by over 2,000, the number of counselors has remained the same.
“The staffing patterns have remained relatively flat over the past 18 years…the staff hasn’t grown at the rate the number of students coming in has grown,” Dr. Scott said.
The International Association of Counseling Services recommends that schools maintain, at a minimum, a ratio of one full-time counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. Currently SU only has 4.49 FTE, including Director Scott who focuses mostly on administration duties.
This puts the SU Counseling Center well below the recommended minimum and it would need to double their staff in order to keep up with the number of students on campus.
While many students may place the blame of these wait times and other problems directly on the center, there are many other aspects that those involved with the Counseling Services cannot control. The main one being the lack of staff.
“It gets generalized, there’s a wait and [students] don’t like to wait so then it’s like ‘that’s the Counseling Center doing that telling me I can’t get an appointment,’” Dr. Scott said. “That’s another point of contention that gets generalized that the Counseling Center is not meeting our needs as opposed to we don’t have the staff to do it that way.”
The lack of staffing contributes to a lot of the problems, and tagged with the increasing complexity of mental health issues that students are faced with there is only so much a limited staff can do.
The goal of the petition is to show the backing behind the expansion of the Counseling Center and an increase in the amount of staff in order to make these services more beneficial to the students. Of the concerns, a main point is a need for ‘drop-in’ hours where students do not need to set up an appointment.
The hope for those involved is that the university will be able to see the number of students pushing for this issue to be resolved, while also showing students that it is not a direct issue of the center, but more so of the university. Lenox and Scott are looking to collect at least 1,000 signature before the end of February.
“People don’t really look at the fact that [the problem] is higher up,” SGA Chief of Staff Jill Scott said. “Money going anywhere is great, but they do overlook the Counseling Center.”
As for the relation between the center and this petition, Dr. Scott is all for it. She knows the importance of these counseling centers on campus and the direct correlation it has with academics.
SU Counseling Services are expected to aid students in times of need and helping them to also continue through school.
Another important factor is campus security. Dr. Scott knows, especially in today’s world, how necessary it is to keep an eye on students’ wellbeing.
“Campuses in general are a little more on edge, so they want to have early detection of problems so things can be prevented that are hurtful to the whole campus not just the individual who has a problem,” Dr. Scott said.
Dr. Scott believes that an increase in the number of staff is necessary, and she knows that faculty members and some within the administration agree.
Despite that, she is still battling to get the center more help. With students now taking a stand, she hopes that the university will start to address the center’s needs.
“I think that other people know we could use more counselors, the president has even said it and faculty have acknowledged it,” Dr. Scott said. “Decisions have to be made about how to allocate the resources…it’s a matter of who’s priority is going to be met.”
Members of SGA will be circulating the petition, similarly to the recent Maggs petition that students have seen around campus, as previously reported by Sports Editor Chris Mackowiak.
These types of needs that students are seeing are beginning a trend amongst students, pushing them to advocate for what can be improved at SU.
Featured picture: SU Counseling Center in Guerrieri Student Union. Hannah Wichrowski photo.