UNA counseling services seeks additional space and staff

by News Editor Anna Beahm

Student Counseling Services is looking for new ways to treat students proactively.

The number of students seeking services has increased dramatically, said Director of Student Counseling Services Lynne Martin.

“(All national trends) are moving upward,” Martin said. “Over 20 percent of our (middle and high school) students have a mental health diagnosis. The big thing for us is moving to a different model of delivering services. That requires more staff and more specialized space.”

Martin said the center needs three to four more professional staff members, a new facility and a larger budget in a presentation to the board of trustees March 17.

She said she hopes the center can gain accreditation from the International Association for Counseling Services Inc., in the future. She said they need an appropriate facility to gain this accreditation.

Counseling Services is an important component of the university, said senior Haley Fields.

“I think all university matters should be equal in importance, but this is something I feel very strongly about,” Fields said.

She said she thinks it is important the university provides an adequate place for students to get help for any emotional or mental conditions.

“People who suffer from mental illnesses have been conditioned to thinking that there’s something shameful about speaking up about it,” she said. “Sort of a social stigma, if you will. Who’s to say that students who suffer from mental illnesses and need the help are less important than other matters?”

Since 2001, the counseling center has greatly increased the number of service hours available to students.

“When I came to UNA, I had four hours (per week) available and not all those hours were filled,” she said. “Today, five licensed professionals are working in the building.”

On a normal day, all the scheduled appointments are filled with some walk-ins and after-hours services, she said.

The percentage of students visiting the center who indicated they had prior treatment including other mental health medications rose 10.6 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to statistics from the Student Counseling Services intake forms.

The number of students who reported harassment, abuse or controlling behaviors increased 9 percent and those reporting self-injury increased 6.9 percent.

The only trend that has not increased at UNA is the number of students who have attempted suicide at least once, she said. This statistic reduced to 10.8 percent of patients from 13.2 percent,

she said.

While the number of students seeking services has increased, Martin said the biggest increase they have seen is the number of walk-in students. The center currently accommodates walk-ins, but Martin said she would like to have a counselor designated for walk-ins, or what’s known as a “triage system”.”

Creating a student health center that houses both University Health Services and Student Counseling Services would benefit the university, said Vice President for Student Affairs David Shields.

“They really are a critical office in the university’s retention efforts,” he said. “If we didn’t have this, I’m sure we would lose those students.

“On those occasions when you have a student in significant crisis, they provide an opportunity and a way for us to intervene and help those students seek out additional help that we may not be able to provide for them, but can help facilitate.”

Martin said they are seeing more students who need skills training. These are relationship skills, self-soothing skills and communication skills, Martin said. These sessions are better handled in a group setting, she said.

“In order to provide a group setting, I’ve got to have a group room,” Martin said.

The center already does some forms of group services through classroom visits and campus events, she said. However, Martin said she thinks having a designated group therapy center would be best.

“I’ve been talking that for years, but it seems every time I had the provision to add a staff member, the influx got bigger,” she said. “We’re still stuck in the reactive traditional mode where we’d rather move to that wellness proactive model.”