University Counseling Services at Truman State University has seen an increase in the utilization of its services, and it is starting to find ways to cope with the increase in students.
“We had a record September,” Joe Hamilton, assistant director of UCS, said. “It was the highest September for first-time student [appointments] ever. That is the highest month we have ever had in our history at UCS.”
Hamilton said with more students coming in, it is harder to juggle his administrative responsibilities with his counselor responsibilities. He said it is more stressful on staff to try and manage the demand.
Hamilton said higher utilization is a continuing trend, not only at Truman but across the nation.
“I was actually surprised though,” Hamilton said. “I thought with enrollment going down so much that our numbers would be not so high.”
Hamilton said UCS had a record number of appointments in October with 603 appointments. He said the department is in line to see about 800 students using services this semester.
Brenda Higgins, Director of UCS and Student Health Services, attributes the rise utilization to the reduced stigma.
Hamilton said there is a generational trend showing more young people with mental health concerns.
Higgins said more students who are coming to UCS already had mental health care before, so they are just wanting to continue with the kind of care they have previously received.
She said the industry is doing a better job of diagnosing mental health problems and therefore treating those problems
“I think we are seeing impacts of [Americans with Disabilities Act],” Higgins said. “A number of students in the past who would have not of been successful and made it to the college level can now be successful with the accommodations through the office of student access. It means people who may have not been able to have even gotten to college now can and can be successful in college with those kinds of supports.”
Higgins said those factors together created a storm for college counseling services across the country.
Hamilton said an advertisement for a psychology position was posted in September, the psychologist would work part-time at A.T. Still University and at Truman. However, Higgins said they have not received an application for the position.
“That has been pretty frustrating to us,” Higgins said. “I think that part of the reason for that is because our posting was a little late for the academic year. A lot of people who were looking for jobs in academia probably already had them, we were really hoping that if we posted something in September we would have someone by January… but that is not looking good.”
Higgins said nation-wide there is a shortage of higher-level mental health providers, like psychologists and psychiatrists, so enticing someone to Kirksville is not an easy task.
Higgins said UCS is going to continue looking to hire a psychologist. She also said that having another person on staff would have been helpful, especially since it would have been someone with a little higher level of expertise.
While the position would not have been crucial, it would have been beneficial Higgins said.
“Am I disappointed we do not have more people to help treat our students? Yes,” Higgins said. “but we are doing ok. The president has expressed interest in what our numbers are and wait times … so I think we have interest all the way up to the president in supporting students and their mental health, so that’s a good thing.”
Higgins said the department has done well this semester despite the lack of staff.
“We have not had a waiting list this semester and right now is our busiest time,” Higgins said. “Students right now are experiencing the longest wait that we have had all year long, it always get busier at the end of the year.”
There has not been a waiting list for appointments for several years, Higgins said. At the moment students are not waiting to schedule appointments, but their appointments might be two or three weeks out from when the schedule them, Higgins said, which is the longest they have had in a while.
Higgins explained that if there is an emergency UCS will always see a student immediately.
Hamilton said that UCS is going to talk as a whole staff about what changes need to be made, to cope with the higher utilization trend.
“There are multiple ways of changing our delivery model to accommodate the students,” Higgins said. “We are trying to be open-minded and meet it head-on before we have a problem. If we don’t have the additional staff we want to meet that need, if we add staff that will just be a bonus”
Hamilton said that the department has to work with the resources it has because it never knows what the staffing is going to look like.
He said it can either hire more people or change its processes to meet the growing demand.
“If our staffing remains the same, hopefully it won’t because hopefully, we can hire a psychologist,” Hamilton said. “We are definitely going to have to look at our current service model and make some adjustments.”
Hamilton said February will be UCS’ highest month for the spring semester but overall numbers of new students coming in the spring will be lower.