On Your Side Investigation: Crisis on Campus

On Your Side Investigation: Crisis on Campus

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Demand for mental health services on college campuses nationwide has grown by 30 percent over five years, according to an annual report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

"There could be too few staff on campus to really address the needs," said Bryant Ford, Ph.D., of the American College Health Association. The association held a conference Monday to discuss growing demands and what colleges and universities can do in response.

"If there's fewer financial resources, it may impact programming, hiring and also any kind of outreach initiatives," Ford said.

The study shows college students seek treatment for issues like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide prevention.

"And we know suicide is the second leading cause of death for students ages 18 to 24, so suicide prevention has been another real emphasis for us," explained Angela Stowe, Ph.D, director of the UAB Student Counseling Services and Wellness Promotion.

According to Stowe, the demand for mental health resources at UAB is up by 60 percent this year over last year.

In response, UAB is increasing counselors on staff, offering online student support, and group workshops for students.

UAB also started a new peer-to-peer counseling group. Fifteen students earned national certifications in peer counseling.

"They were trained by counselors in fundamental peer counseling skills, such as motivational interviewing and reflective listening," said Siddhu Srikakolapu, a junior at UAB and co-founder of the peer-to-peer counseling program.

The new program allows students waiting for a counseling appointment the option to talk to a certified peer during the wait.

Srikakolapu says peer counseling addresses another issue – stigma.

"Peer coaching wants to help promote the mental health on campus, that's really its ultimate goal," he said.

Greater acceptance of counseling services could be one of the reasons why there's an increase in the demand, explains Dr. Lee Keyes, Executive Director of The University of Alabama Counseling Center. UA has seen about a 10 to 12 percent increase annually over a 12-year period in counseling services. The staff has also doubled during that time frame.

Another reason for increased demand is outreach.

"In my 26 years at UA, I can say that information concerning services is much more widely available through UA resources in every medium and communication vehicle possible," Keyes explained.

Samford University has seen a 13 percent increase in new students requesting counseling appointments this semester over last year, said Richard Yoakum, M.S., LPC, Director of Counseling Services and Wellness Programs.

To keep up with demand, the programs incorporate online and electronic forms of communication and therapy. For example, students are told about smart phone apps that guide meditation practices.

Students at Samford can also meet with trained graduate students, or participate in workshops and support groups.

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