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Increasingly stressed students wait up to six weeks for counseling

Recent studies indicate that first year college students are more stressed than ever before, leading to an increase in student demand for counseling services.

In an article recently published by the New York Times on Jan. 26, 2011, it was revealed that female students’ “emotional health” (a term used to explain general contentedness) had dipped to around 50%, in contrast to 60% in 1985. The New York Times attributed this rising statistic to financial worries including college loans and debt.

The news reports also reveal that freshwomen appear to be twice as frazzled as their male counterparts.

Mills first year, Jessica Lix, agreed that students are stressed, pointing out the challenges that students face.

“Mills is just a very academically challenging school,” the biopsychology major said.

Kim Baranek, Director of Wellness and Community Outreach at Mills, said student lives are inherently stressful.

“I think students are always stressed; they’re juggling a lot of demands,” Baranek said. “Also Mills is a very rigorous academic institution and I think the workload is pretty intense.”

Baranek noted that Mills students face financial pressure as well.
“Students are under pressure to keep a certain GPA to maintain their scholarships,” Baranek said.

While Mills College offers 10 free counseling sessions per semester for students feeling stressed or anxious, students may often have to wait up to six weeks for an appointment with a counselor.

“We’ve had quite an increase in counseling appointments lately. I think that’s true nationally as well,” said Dorian Newton, PhD, head of the Mills counseling department. “We’ve had a significantly longer waiting list lately.”

The Mills Counseling Center has six counselors and four trainees for an undergraduate population of 961 students.

In comparison, Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, CA has a population of 2621 undergraduate students with an eight-person counseling staff and walk-in hours 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The college also has emergency appointments available where students can be seen immediately or on the same day. A representative at the Saint Mary’s Wellness Center said students may face waits up to 2 to 3 weeks long.
So why the wait at Mills?

An increase of students are seeking out psychological services, with around 20% of the Mills population receiving counseling sessions on campus, according to Newton.

A student who asked to remain anonymous and works for Mills Counseling & Psychological Services started to notice an increase in student s coming in last Fall.

“There have been a lot more people, especially last semester,” the student said. “There were a lot of people coming in for counseling, more than ever before, and we had to start making some people wait.”

First year Lix said she tried to schedule a counseling appointment last semester after a traumatic event happened in her dorm. Lix turned to the Mills counseling center for guidance.

“I had one appointment and I was really excited,” Lix said. “But after they told me I had to wait one month before the next appointment was available.”

Lix tried to book another appointment by calling Counseling & Psychological Services. She got in touch with the center within a couple weeks; they told her to come by at 6 p.m. one evening for an appointment.

“I left practice early, ran over to the building and nobody was in the building,” Lix said. “It was really annoying. It was something I was looking forward to; I was excited to talk to someone.”

Newton said that the center has counseling slots reserved for emergencies, however.

“We try to do some things to help students stay connected with resources such as Kaiser,” Newton said. “They have classes, support groups and private sessions.”

Private counseling sessions’ costs are on a sliding scale , depending on the student’s personal Kaiser plan.

According to Newton, the Counseling & Psychological Services is funded through Mills College’s general operating budget, with a certain amount set aside for staffing and operational costs of the facilities.

“The College is continually looking at and re-evaluating the needs of the student body in making funding decisions for the Counseling Center as well as other student services,” Newton said.

And students’ needs may be changing with the increase in
stress levels.

Lix said that while counseling at Mills provides services for students, the center may not be prepared as students become increasingly stressed.

“I would say that unless you tell them that it’s life-threatening, don’t expect to get in,” Lix said. “I think that they need to hire a few more people to placate to the students.”

Newton said that one solution to making sure students receive free counseling sessions at Mills is to either hire more counselors or extend the current counselors’ hours. Newton said that this would increase the costs of operating the center however.