April 16, 2012

Mental Health Programs Meet Surging Demand

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As Gannett has bolstered its mental health services in the past two years, student demand for these services has risen to meet the increase. Administrators say the continued surge in those seeking counseling can be partially attributed to new outreach programs, which they say have brought about a culture change in student views toward counseling services.

Increased funding from the University, as well as alumni donations, contributed to an $800,000 net increase in Gannett’s budget for counseling and hiring staff last year, according to Greg Eells, director of counseling and psychological services for Gannett.

“Every time we’ve expanded the availability of services, students have utilized them,” said Tim Marchell ’82, director of mental health initiatives for Gannett. “When you combine that with efforts that we are pursuing University-wide to encourage students to seek help … All of these things contribute to increases in utilization.”

Fifteen percent of the student body — about 3,000 students  — see counselors at Gannett in a year, and one third visit at least once during their time at Cornell, according to Eells.Eells also credited the increase in students seeking Gannett’s services to a change in attitude that has removed the stigma of asking for help to cope with depression.“It’s been our goal for at least a decade or more to really reduce stigma and I think there’s been a lot of people much more engaged on our campus in doing that from President [David] Skorton to [Cornell] Minds Matter to faculty,” Eells said. “I think we’ve really engaged faculty in a way we weren’t 10 years ago.”However, some students expressed concern that the increased demand for these services might come with pitfalls.Joanna Chen ’14 said she is sometimes unable to schedule appointments with CAPS in addition to her regularly scheduled weekly appointment. “Sometimes I get the impression that if I wanted to see them more I couldn’t. Everything seems so busy,” Chen said.She also said she was unable to schedule appointments when calling on a weekend.“I have an issue with that,” Chen said. “If a student has the resolve to call CAPS, they should be available 24 hours … Instead, they just transfer you out to someone who can’t help you make an appointment.”Eells denied there is a problem with students being able to schedule CAPS appointments.“The way our system works is you get a brief phone assessment, and then we’ll look at what’s going on with you and schedule you based on your level of concern,” he said. “If we talk to someone on the phone and we think they really need to be seen right away, we get them in right away. So if someone has a serious mental health concern, we would get that person in the same day –– and that doesn’t change, no matter how busy we get.”Although students calling Gannett may not always be able to speak to their regular counselor, there will always be someone available to speak on the phone, added Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73.Despite the occasional difficulties she has experienced in scheduling appointments, Chen said she is happy with Gannett’s counseling services.“I just like going to someone you can talk to even if it doesn’t always help,” Chen said. “It’s a safety net.”       Murphy credited the reduction of the stigma surrounding mental health services to the work of new outreach programs that the University has created in the past two years.“There’s some examples of superb work and really groundbreaking work that we’ve done,” Murphy said. “Our efforts in the outreach to students directly –– but also to faculty and staff in addition to students –– are often recognized by our peers as among the best.”These new programs include “Real Students, Reel Stories” and “Notice and Respond: Friend 2 Friend,” as well as its partner program, “Staying Balanced.”The three programs focus on preparing freshmen for life at Cornell and recognizing when other students need help, and have received positive feedback since their inception two years ago, according to Murphy and Carol Grumbach, associate dean for new student programs.“It got an extremely favorable response [among students],” Grumbach said of “Real Students, Reel Stories.”Also important to the University’s outreach efforts have been activities coordinated by Cornell Minds Matter, according to Casey Carr ’74, assistant dean of students and CMM’s advisor. Carr said the student group has seen a “huge” rise in its membership in the past year.Carr also said that in the past two years, she has noticed that students are more concerned with their own mental health.“Students are more aware that when they take care of their emotional and mental health that they will be more successful socially and academically,” Carr said. “I think that in the past two years, the conversation and dialogue around these issues has become much more open and acceptable.”Despite the recent successes of its outreach programs, the University needs to do more to include graduate students in its efforts, Murphy said.“We probably have not done as much in reaching out for our graduate and professional students as we have with our undergraduates and that’s an area that we’re trying to address in the coming year,” Murphy said. “We’ve been a little bit undergraduate-focused.”In addition to reaching out to graduate students, Marchell said the University needs to intensify its efforts to help minority students.“Given what we know about higher levels of distress among certain subgroups on campus — for example Asian and Asian-American students — it’s important that we continue to pursue our diversity initiatives, our commitment to inclusion and reduction of bias,” Marchell said. “Experiencing bias and feeling marginalized, misunderstood or alienated can exacerbate someone’s risk for a mental health problem.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky