College students seek more counseling services

Olivia Gomez, Staff writer

More American undergraduates than ever are suffering from anxiety disorders or other forms of mental illness, and Linfield students have been keeping up with the national trend.

Patty Haddeland, who serves as director of student health, wellness and counseling, said the college has been experiencing an across-the-board uptick. “Universally, those of us who have been here for a while would say we’re busier than ever,” she said.

Over the last two years, the counseling staff has seen all the students it can handle most days. It’s a combination of more students seeking counseling services and “high-need” students coming in more often—in some cases, once a week or more.

Anxiety disorders are the most commonly treated mental health conditions in the country, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Linfield’s health center staff is seeing more patients complaining of anxiety and prescribing more anti-anxiety medications in response, Haddeland said. She said the national upswing is consistent with what she’s seeing on a daily basis at Linfield.

To stretch its ability to meet student mental health needs, the staff is now testing a form of triage. It is blocking out four 30-minute appointments each day for new patients. It is reserving them for faculty or staff referrals, students in crisis or students following up on a crisis visit to a hospital emergency room.

The aim is to help new patients establish a relationship with a counselor before initiating a series of hour-long therapy visits. Haddeland is hoping that will serve to maximize contact time between counselors and patients and minimize wait time for appointments.

However, even after months of treatment, patients can find it hard to cope with debilitating anxiety. Benoit Denizet-Lewis explored this issue in the Oct. 11 edition of The New York Times Magazine, based on a study conducted at Mountain Valley, a residential treatment center in New Hampshire.

Haddeland said the anxiety gripping a growing number of college students tends to develop while they are still in high school and follow them to college, despite the change in environment.

Several psychological disorders tend to first present themselves in the late teens, she said.

But quantifying those suffering from such disorders is tricky. Haddeland said different methods of gathering data tend to produce different results.

Simply tallying the number of students coming in for help isn’t sufficient, she said. It’s more complicated than that.

What’s more, students entering into a counseling program are rarely seeking help for a single issue in isolation, Haddeland said. It “gets a little fuzzy when you’re talking about mental illnesses, because rarely do they come as a singular,” she said.

Counselors must identify what is presenting the student with the most challenges at the time of a particular visit and record that on an interaction sheet. If a student has been suffering from depression, but spent one visit seeking help with a roommate conflict, that will be documented on that session’s sheet.

Counselors also encounter “traditional ebbs and flows” in patients. Haddeland said it is common for students to visit during their first month on campus, seeking help with adjustment issues. At the other end of the spectrum, seniors sometimes visit during their last two months, seeking help managing the uncertainty lying ahead for them, she said.