As students prepare for a fall semester under COVID-19 limitations, Counseling Services reports relatively steady numbers despite the lack of face-to-face sessions.
With the fall semester arriving soon, Director of Counseling Services Courtney Boddie shared an update on the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on students reaching out for counseling. According to Boddie, the number of students seeking help from Counseling Services has remained stable after almost half a year under COVID-19 restrictions.
“It's kind of interesting because when we look at our data from FY19 and then FY20 ... the data [isn’t] very different, and we're still trying to kind of wrap our heads around exactly what that's about,” Boddie said. “Our numbers have held fairly constant, and I think we're probably one of the few departments on campus … for whom that's the case.”
Counseling Services' numbers showed only a slight downtick in the amount of clients, but those numbers were balanced out by a higher number of appointments made by these clients since the pandemic restricted counseling sessions to online only.
“Our numbers for the current academic year were actually higher. So, we had more appointments, but we had fewer individual clients,” Boddie said.
Boddie said he was slightly surprised by the stable numbers because students may feel as if they lose some of the benefits of counseling by not meeting in a more intimate setting.
“We have had some students who, you know, enjoyed the in-person experience and either couldn’t or didn't want to have the digital deal,” Boddie said.
Kelly Gable, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and psychiatric pharmacist, highlighted the difficulties students face when confronted with a change in counseling, but urged those who need it to reach out.
“It's already hard enough, I think, for folks to really get to that place of going to therapy,” Gable said. “I'm a huge advocate for therapy and psychotherapy, and I want people to also get that teletherapy and therapy online … It's actually working really well for a lot of people right now, and so if folks need help getting that link we want to encourage people to ask and let us help.”
Boddie pointed out that some students have paused their counseling this summer due to a number of accessibility issues, whether it was a lack of technology or a parent or guardian who may not be entirely supportive of counseling. However, he also noted that this was evened out by people seeking help to deal with stress caused by pandemic-related concerns.
“I think most people will prefer to be in person, and overall we have seen a decent number of people pause,” Boddie said. “The number of people who pause [were] just sort of [balanced] by the number of ... new cases that may be around current circumstances, whether that's social unrest in the country or the impact of the pandemic.”
As with the number of clients, Boddie revealed the top diagnoses of students have remained consistent for the most part, though one change occured this year. According to Boddie’s reports, major depressive disorder made its way into the top four diagnoses this year, where it sits alongside generalized anxiety and persistent depressive disorders.
Gable had a theory as to why depressive disorders have become common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People miss spending time with their families and their friends, and when they do spend time with them, they have a level of guilt that comes with that [due to COVID-19 risks],” Gable said. “So I think that also really impacts wellness for folks. Because there's this balance of ‘I need to take care of myself’ and ‘I want to do things that are promoting wellness’ and ‘How do I do that in a safe way? How do I do that in a socially distant way?’”
Bernadette Sobczak, an associate professor in the School of Nursing and pediatric mental health specialist, said her students have reported similar issues, as the need to pre-plan now more than ever has worn on their mental health.
“I see higher stress levels, higher anxiety levels, more of that ‘need to know in advance’ for advanced planning,” Sobczak said. “They really want that reassurance from us. Like ‘when [are we] going to be disadvantaged’ so they can plan out because there's a lot of uncertainties.”
These varied issues have been the basis for many counseling sessions, Boddie revealed. Boddie said while the mental health diagnoses and attendance of students hasn’t changed much, previously defined conditions have continued to worsen because of challenges this year has presented.
“Whenever there are situational stressors, they're of course going to inform the ways that people tell their story, and they're going to potentially … replace something that would have been really distressing before,” Boddie said. “Or it might make … [pre-existing conditions] worse.”
As students prepare for a fall semester that will look different than usual, Counseling Services has added specific information for those seeking help on their website. Boddie said they also plan on offering a number of conferences this fall to inform students of their options concerning mental health.
For information on Counseling Services and how they are operating under COVID-19 restrictions, visit their SIUE page.