In the first six weeks of the Fall Semester, nearly 1,000 students sought help through Ohio University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CPS.
The number of students seeing CPS counselors has increased from 705 students last fall to 973 students this fall. The increase may be attributed to the number of students who are back on campus this semester, Paul Castelino, director of CPS, said.
College students are still developing mentally, which makes them more vulnerable to the stressors of COVID-19, Timothy Anderson, an OU psychology professor, said.
“The developmental task in college, partly, is to develop through relationships and support from other students to find out their identity through those interactions with other students,” Anderson said. “The last year and a half that we've been in COVID, there's been severe obstacles placed on that, really, very important period of life.”
The need for social interaction and mental health support from peers is an essential part of OU’s Active Minds club. The club works to provide students with a safe place to discuss their mental health and end the stigma surrounding mental health through meetings and sponsored events.
Active Minds is advised by David Lairmore, a psychologist and outreach coordinator for CPS. However, the group is mainly led by the students involved in the organization. Weekly events and activities are centered around what students feel they need at the time.
“Something I've noticed a lot that we have talked about in meetings is just in-person classes again,” Makenna Burton, the president of Active Minds at OU and a sophomore studying graphic design and studio art, said. “I feel like we all got so used to being online that now that we're in-person having to arrive to classes on time, having to jump from one class to another class quickly, it's honestly really stressful.”
COVID-19 has not only affected the source of student stress but also the format through which students are seeking help for that stress. Most of the meetings scheduled with CPS are done through Zoom for Healthcare. There can be exceptions to the telehealth communication system if students are concerned for their privacy or their mental health needs call for an in-person session, Castelino said.
CPS has set up 18 to 20 hours a day in which students are able to reach out to them. For immediate help, students can use drop-in services or speak to a counselor over the phone after hours. In-person, walk-in meetings are available for students Sunday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Living Learning Center. For students seeking one-time appointments, there are six to eight one-hour appointments to choose from throughout the week.
CPS currently has 16 care providers on staff, including psychologists and counselors, a care manager and a psychiatrist. CPS recognizes this may seem like a small number of providers compared to the size of OU’s campus.
“We will continue to monitor our availability, resources, and utilization so that we can respond to the demands and needs as the semester unfolds,” Rebecca Conrad Davenport, CPS associate director and clinical director, said in an email. “Our staff is consistently working to be responsive to students and staying abreast of the standards of care in our respective mental health fields.”
Burton said she understands why students may be hesitant to attend counseling but said CPS is understanding if it is not the right option for some students.
“I know a lot of people think that the stigma behind (seeing) a therapist … will make you look weak but, in my opinion, it makes you look a lot stronger,” Burton said. “I would definitely recommend it (CPS) for anyone that feels that they need it.”
While when students choose to seek help from CPS may vary, Anderson said if a student is thinking about it, they should go.
“Whenever a student feels that they need help … If a student is feeling stressed and the thought occurs, ‘Hey, maybe I should talk to a therapist,’ that’s a good time to talk to a therapist,” he said.