I always find the Spring semester much harder to start than the Fall. The days tend to be cold, rainy, and short. The bubbling enthusiasm of a new academic year has faded into a less inspiring feeling of being right in the middle of things. I realize, yet again, that I planned too much for the break and accomplished too little. And I have the sense that many students find the early part of the Spring semester equally challenging.
So to start a new semester’s effort to integrate thinking about student mental health with thinking about effective teaching and learning, I thought it might be worth a quick primer (or, more hopefully, a reminder) about what is available through UP’s counseling services to students who seem to be struggling in our classes for reasons other than academic skills.
WHO: The UP Health and Counseling Center offers both primary care and counseling services to students, with the counseling side of things comprising four full-time professional psychologists and two practicum students (usually third year doctoral students who spend 2.5 days a week on campus seeing students and organizing groups for one academic year). The director of UP’s Health and Counseling Center, Carol Dell’Oliver, is also a clinical psychologist who occasionally sees students amidst her busy administrative schedule.
As of this 2017-2018 academic year, the Health and Counseling Center has also contracted with ProtoCall to make after-hours phone counseling available – students can reach licensed clinicians any time of day for ‘specialty telephonic behavioral health services’ by calling the main UP Health and Counseling phone number (503 943 7134) and taking option ‘3’ after hours.
It is also worth remembering that UP’s Early Alert system has been expanded in recent years to offer a useful first point of contact and referral when faculty are concerned about student mental health.
WHAT: As was described in my last TLC blog post, “the Health and Counseling Center reserves two appointment slots every work day for emergency needs – ensuring that students experiencing acute mental health concerns can get same day help. They also have nine daily appointments for 20 minute initial consultations with one of the counseling staff, ensuring that most any student with non-emergency concerns can talk to a professional within a few days.”
After initial consultations, UP’s counseling services focuses on short-term therapeutic work – ranging from a few 50 minute sessions to a few months’ worth of sessions. If students need more intensive longer-term therapy they are referred outside the University. As with college counseling services nationally, the most common issues students want to discuss in counseling are anxiety and depression – but it is also common to have students discuss relationships, adjustment to college, identity issues, and more. In prior years about 16% of UP students have utilized counseling services – which is slightly, but not dramatically, higher than the national average.
The primary care side of the Health and Counseling Center can also help students with medication prescriptions when needs are mild to moderate, though when students have more serious medication needs those are often managed by outside providers.
WHERE: The Health and Counseling Center is on the top floor of Orrico Hall – above the Career Center, snuggled in-between the physical plant building and Mehling Hall. Information is also available at: https://www.up.edu/healthcenter/index.html
WHEN: The Health and Counseling Center is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They close daily from 12:00 p.m.- 1:00 p.m.. As noted above, they also make after hours phone counseling available by calling the main line at 503 943 7134 and selecting option 3.
WHY: There are lots of reasons for faculty to pay attention to student mental health – starting with the fact that any person in distress needs others to show they care. It is also both intuitively and empirically evident that students struggling with mental health concerns also often (though not always) struggle with their academic work.
But it is also important for faculty and academic staff to remember that our job is not to become para-professional counselors in addition to professors – our job is to pay attention to, and care about, our students by helping them find the help they may sometimes need. So, as we approach the rainy early months of the Spring semester, I hope it is helpful to remember the ways UP makes such help available for students (including many parts of the University outside of the Health and Counseling Center).