September 26, 2007

Gannett Focuses On Mental Health

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Are you feeling down, depressed or hopeless? Feeling bad about yourself — or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down? Having thoughts that you would be better off dead, or hurting yourself in some way?
Probably not what your mom would have asked you when you fell off your bike. In an effort to identify people who may need help, any student who makes an appointment at Gannett is now screened for depression.
The tragic shooting at Virginia Tech, which left 32 students and faculty members and the shooter Seung Hui Cho dead, has brought counseling services to the forefront of health concerns at universities around the country, including Cornell.
According to Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Dr. Gregory Eells, data shows that the people most likely to kill themselves are also the least likely to seek help. About half the people who kill themselves have, however, seen a physician within the last year.
“Cornell takes mental health seriously. We see about 14 percent of the student body and our data shows more and more students seek care as compared to the increase in students,” said Eells.
According to its website, over 2,800 Cornell students visit CAPS each year, totaling over 20,000 visits for a variety of reasons, including feelings of stress, hopelessness, anxiety and adjustment challenges.
In response to the Virginia Tech shooting, Cornell has attempted to increase the community-based services CAPS offers, which the university has been expanding over the past six years.
In Hasbrouck, the housing complex for undergraduate, graduate and international students, for example, there is now a counselor on staff once a week so that students who may feel isolated and have more trouble adjusting can stop by without having to go far or make an appointment.
“Cornell is a hard place to adjust to and even harder when you add a language barrier. We want to meet international students’ different expectations of healing and health care,” said Eells. “Some of Cho’s difficulty was in adjusting to the country and to western American structures. He needed additional support.”
Not all international students may require assistance although most recognize its importance.
“I could see how a counselor could be useful, but my biggest problem was in interacting with people and the language related and in understanding jokes. I found the community was open and understanding and I’m not sure a counselor would have helped me,” said Philip Van Der Made ’10, who grew up in the Netherlands.
The University has also made an effort to help students having trouble taking that first step toward care. No appointment is necessary to speak with someone in the Let’s Talk program offered through CAPS.
Like Let’s Talk, no appointment is required for the Empathy, Assistance and Referral Services program; unlike Let’s Talk, it is confidential, anonymous and free. However, if the CAPS $10 co-pay is too much, a student can request a waiver.
EARS may benefit students with an issue that may not require a therapist. According to Dean of Students and Assistant Dean for Student Support Alice Green, research shows that people will first approach their peers.
EARS also works in conjunction with CAPS, and in the case that a student may require additional support, EARS counselors can help place students with a therapist.
“Students taking care of students is a big theme that arises in response to something like Virginia Tech. We see the need for students to be attentive to one another,” she said.
There are also community consultation and intervention programs in place if a student or member of the faculty or staff has concerns about another student. The University employs two psychologists who do not see clients but are available for faculty and staff to consult with if they have concerns about a student.
While Virginia Tech has certainly generated more interest in mental-health services, in the aftermath of the tragedy, people may perceive a higher amount of risk than what actually exists in certain situations.
“Virginia Tech has made people very anxious. Mental health services have gotten a lot more attention, but there is a tendency to not realistically assess risk. Suicide and alcohol related incidents are still more likely and risky for college students,” said Eells.