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Rising counseling numbers at Mills reflect nationwide trend

At Mills, approximately one out of every five students will seek psychological help this year. While this number may sound high, recent studies show that college students throughout the United States are increasingly experiencing psychological stress.

These days, college students have a lot on their plates, including academic demands, financial responsibilities, exposure to new people and temptations and anxiety about life after graduation.

“Mental illness is absolutely going off the charts on college campuses,” said Hara Marano in a USA Today interview. Marano is the author of a new study published recently in Psychology Today.

According to Robert Gallagher’s 2006 survey of college counseling centers, available at, 90 percent of colleges reported an increase of students with severe psychological problems during the past five years.

Dorian Newton, associate dean of student wellness at Mills’ Counseling and Psychological Services, is aware of the nationwide trend toward an “increase in both the incidence and severity of mental illness among students” and said she believed that “Mills is no exception.”

In fact, “[Mills’] numbers are sometimes higher than other counseling centers,” said Newton. Between 15 and 20 percent of students utilize the Counseling Center in a given year, equating to between 130 and 180 undergraduates. Newton ascribed the higher numbers to Mills students being “well-informed about resources on campus and more comfortable advocating for themselves,” relative to students of other schools.

But the proof isn’t always plain to see. “It wasn’t that easy to find out about counseling at first,” said one Mills junior currently in counseling. “At first, I felt discouraged to seek the help of a counselor, mainly because I thought I had to go to Tang Center for that service.”

“Mills students seek counseling for a variety of concerns, but troubled romantic relationships and depression are the problems most frequently cited in recent years,” Newton said. This year, Newton noted an increase in the number of students being seen for anxiety.

Mills Chaplain Erika Macs noted that, in her experience, student depression is often triggered by “a new transition, a developing family issue and/or the constant level of stress and demands in their life.”

The Mills junior echoed the sentiment and said the “stressful [school] environment on top of already existing issues can make depression worse.”

Nationwide, factors contributing to increased psychological stress among students are family dysfunction at home, including drug and physical abuse, the increasingly competitive world and early exposure to drugs, alcohol and sex, according to studies by Gallagher and Marano.

“There are also the wider community and global issues of our times that affect a person’s well-being. Sometimes the accumulation of all these threads is a lot for one heart to carry,” said Macs.

One of the major reasons for reports of increased psychological stress may be that many students who couldn’t attend college in the past now can due to the availability of new psychiatric medication, according to Gallagher.

Oct. 5 was National Depression Screening Day, an event which is held annually to coordinate free and anonymous screenings across the country. While the Counseling Center did not participate in a formal way “due to limited resources,” the Center is working in coordination with the Division of Student Life on a series of programs which involve “education and outreach to students on the subject of depression,” among other topics, said Newton.

Mills students are able to get counseling year round from the Counseling & Psychological center located in the Cowell building. Students are eligible for up to 10 counseling sessions each academic year free of charge, according to the center’s website, to be used within that year.

That wasn’t enough for the junior mentioned earlier. While she described her counselor as “a very good listener,” she criticized the fact that “the sessions are only 45 minutes long” and decided to supplement her sessions with outside therapeutic help.

Newton advised any student who feels she/he may be depressed to “consider talking things over with someone they trust,” be it a friend, family member, resident advisor, or one of the Center’s many diverse counselors.

Chaplain Macs also suggested reaching out to someone. “Isolating yourself – which is a normal reaction in depression – can actually increase the feelings of depression or anxiety, while reaching out to someone you can talk with can help manage these feelings.”

Newton said the key to making the process easier is making time to talk with depressed friends when neither of you are in a hurry to be somewhere else. It’s best to voice concerns and be honest and willing to listen, according to Newton. Finally, it is essential to remember that there are resources on campus, and, if you are worried they are suicidal, call the Counseling Center for help at 430-2119 or 430-2262.