Overwhelmed by demand, counseling centers on Auraria are struggling to provide mental health services to students who seek it.
The tri-institutional center is part of a nationwide trend showing a surge in the number of college students seeking help from campus counseling centers. According to a recent study released by the Center for Collegiate Health, there has been a rapid increase in college students using mental health services. The increased demand is leaving many schools overwhelmed and understaffed. Last year, a survey was released by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors that revealed many directors are increasingly concerned over the lack of access to services provided to students. They noted that the shortage of counselors often results in implementing triage systems that place students on waiting lists before they are able to receive treatment.
“I think there has been a decrease in stigma about seeking help. That used to be a problem many years ago where people would be more afraid to seek help.” said Gail Bruce-Sanford, executive director for MSU Denver’s Counseling Center. “More and more people are comfortable with being open now in identifying their needs and looking for additional help.”
Although Bruce-Sanford said that the problem was driven by a larger acceptance of counseling than in years past, the problem had reached an overwhelming level at MSU Denver.
“I think what counseling centers have generally done over the years is to try to be preventive and to participate in different kinds of programming
so that students will have some tools to help themselves before problems reach a crisis level,” Bruce-Sanford said. Currently, there is no indication that the trend will slow. UCD’s Counseling Center Director Franklin Kim agreed that the issue goes beyond simply providing clinical services. Attention needs to be paid especially to early detection of problems with a focus on prevention.
“Like most college counseling centers across the nation, we have seen increases in demand from one year to the next,” Kim said. “There is also a trend to see more acuity in condition, presenting problem. But we believe that to provide effective, culturally competent mental health services, attention needs to be paid to an assessment of community needs and development of community-informed interventions.”
UCD Counseling Center extends its services to what are considered community clients, like CCD students. Because CCD does not currently have a counseling office of their own, students often take advantage of the opportunity to be seen by UCD counselors. However, as CCD care case manager Heilit Biehl said, there is a process involved.
“Not all CCD students are eligible to be seen by CU Denver’s counseling services. CCD students do fall under community clients, but also must pass a screening at intake to determine eligibility and then students who are accepted as clients must pay out of pocket for services,” Biehl said. Biehl added that as of this coming fall, CCD will be introducing counseling services of their own. All costs will be covered under student fees. Kim mentioned that UCD does see CCD students, but questioned whether it’s a contributing factor to the increase in their overall workload.
“We do see CCD students at our center. The general percentage is not large, however. In most cases, I would say that it does not overburden our services,” Kim said.