As a college student with an anxiety and mood disorder, I am one of millions of students around the country pursuing a degree while also struggling with mental illness. Unfortunately, I am also one of many students that have found my university’s counseling center to be inadequate in providing treatment when I needed it; after waiting over two weeks for an appointment with a school counselor, I was turned away and told to seek help with an outside provider because my case was too severe and required extended treatment.
This is not an uncommon experience, as many universities are overwhelmed with an influx of students seeking care, and as a result they are denying students with long-term needs in order to preserve recourses. Although there are record numbers of students presenting with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, college health centers are failing to provide effective treatment to students requiring help.
Like many other students with psychiatric disorders, I felt as if I was left to fend for myself after being denied treatment by my school’s counseling center. Although my university’s health center did not provide me with any aid other than professional referrals, I attempted to find help through other resources that were not mentioned to me by counselors. I discovered a range of things that aided in my well-being, but I also realized that there were many simple programs that could be created in order to help college students with mental health issues, while simultaneously alleviating some of the burden from counseling centers.
And here’s how universities can be a resource for students in need.
1. Create “Safe Space” Lounges on Campus
The creation of 24/7 safe rooms would allow students who are in distress to seek out a secure space whenever it is needed. Those suffering from mental illnesses are more likely to isolate themselves, and areas like this could provide sanctuary for students dealing with panic attacks, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts when they have nowhere else to turn.
2. Develop Peer-Led Support Groups
One of the most beneficial things to people struggling with mental health issues is support from others in similar situations. Peer-led support groups can be just as effective as counselor-led groups and would allow a greater number of students to receive validation, understanding, and encouragement from those around them.
3. Facilitate a One-On-One Student Buddy System
The benefits of peer groups extend into individualized support, which can provide an even more personal connection for students struggling with ongoing mental health issues. Buddy systems could allow students to have a designated person to reach out to for support, and the mutual feeling of empathy between people struggling with the same issues can be extremely beneficial to both parties.
4. Provide a Peer Listening Service
Many students seeking out counseling services at universities are simply wanting someone to talk through their problems and anxieties with. Unfortunately, these people are thrown into the mix with students that are facing severe psychiatric disorders, and this can deplete recourses that are much needed elsewhere. Peer listeners can be trained in counseling and active listening in order to provide support for students who need an outlet, which could drastically cut down on the students seeking help with counselors.
5. Offer After-Hours Texting Support
While many universities already offer an after-hours counseling help line, students struggling with anxiety and depression are often reluctant to pick up the phone, even if they are in desperate need of help. Texting or messaging support allows students to feel more comfortable reaching out and could potentially save students in dire situations that would be too anxious to seek help in other ways.
6. Make Students Aware of All Services Available to Them
Finally, universities should make certain that they are educating students on all of the resources available to them. There are many more services than counseling accessible to students struggling with mental health issues, including academic accommodations from their school’s disability resource center. Many students would never be aware of the existence of other services that could help them unless they were told, and it’s critical that students are well informed about all of their options, especially if they are denied help by one recourse. Those who feel compelled to seek help should receive it, and universities should be responsible for pointing students in the right direction.