Trinityâ€™s Counseling Services has become busy much earlier than it usually does this time of year. The larger first-year class, and more widely accepted idea that mental health problems should be discussed openly, have led to this increase in clientele.
â€œIt feels like we are busy earlier than we usually are, but business always peaks in the middle of the semester, more so in the fall than in the spring,â€ said Gary Neal, director of Counseling Services.
The staff attends to students of all needs, from homesickness or school-related stress to chronic mental illness.
Neal attributes the rising number of students to the disappearance of negative attitudes towards addressing mental health issues.
â€œI think it has a lot to do with declining stigma of mental health, not that itâ€™s completely gone. Students and parents now perceive it as a service thatâ€™s here for them,â€ Neal said.
According to data collected by Counseling Services, the number of individual counseling clients seen annually increased by 57 percent in the 2015-2016 school year, and more clients have opened up about their medical history.
In order to keep up with the ever-increasing demand, Counseling Services hopes to bring in more staff. However, such a change wouldnâ€™t occur until the 2017-2018 school year.
â€œWe hope to be adding staff â€” we need to add staff â€” to meet the current demand. Otherwise, weâ€™ll have to refer more and more students out, and we know thatâ€™s tough, whether itâ€™s transportation, cost or insurance problems,â€ Neal said.
Although all Trinity students are required to have health insurance, Neal notes that some students are connected to their parentsâ€™ plans, which might dissuade a student from contacting a mental health service. Students must be willing to be open with their parents about seeking counseling.
The staff has rarely had a waiting list for clients and hopes to maintain that. However, it might be hard considering the increasing service rates.
â€œOver my 30 years at Trinity, weâ€™ve never had a waiting list. 40 to 50 percent of counseling centers end up with a waiting list at some point in the year. We work really hard to avoid it, but I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if it happens in October,â€ Neal said.
In order to meet the demand, the staff is looking at hiring a practicum student from a local graduate program who would be here ten to 15 hours a week and would be able to minimize the load. However, the hiring process cannot happen until the spring semester.
â€œIâ€™m aware that some small private schools similar to us have higher utilization rates than we do, but this is not unique to Trinity; this is happening across the country,â€ Neal said.
According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, institutional enrollment in counseling services increased 5.6 percent nationally in the past five years.
An initial consultation with Counseling Services can be made through an appointment or during walk-in hours, Monday through Friday between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Counseling Services is located in Halsell Center, Suite 201.