Counseling Services continues to struggle with student demand

Illustration by Madison Cohen

Counseling Services at NAU continues to wait-list students seeking assessments and counseling, even though a student fee increase approved by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) in April was put in place to help alleviate the issue.

NAU Communications would not release the number of students on the waitlist or the amount of time before services are available to these students, even though a public information request was filed in early September.

A response by NAU Communications to the information request explained the Counseling Services waitlist is used when caseloads are full. This policy allows staff to track interested students so they can be contacted as openings become available.

A number of NAU students, such as junior Mercedes Yanez, have been put on the waitlist, and some have waited for months.

Yanez said she was put on the waitlist in July when she contacted Counseling Services for an assessment and counseling. Even though Yanez said she has contacted them multiple times to find her status on the waitlist, she said she is yet to be contacted as of Oct. 30.

“[Counseling Services] kept saying it was out of their hands, they have a lot of students to deal with and that they’ll get to me when they can, basically,” Yanez said. “They haven’t reached out to me for anything. I’m the one that reaches out to them.”

NAU Communications also stated it does not wait-list students for assessments and instead offer them group counseling as an alternative.

“The waitlist is for students interested in initiating non-crisis counseling. If students are in crisis, they are scheduled for same-day appointments, in order to assess needs, assess risk and make a plan of support moving forward,” NAU Communications said. “Also, if students are interested in group therapy and identify a group time that fits with their schedule, they are not placed on the waitlist — they are able to join groups and begin this weekly treatment option immediately.”

This statement is not being supported by students like Yanez, who said she was never given group counseling information at the time she requested an assessment. She has since been searching for help off campus but said it is difficult with the increased cost and lack of mental health services available in Flagstaff.

Another student who never received counseling services is sophomore Cameron Meyers, who said he was put on the waitlist in January and was not contacted until May 31, after he had already moved back home at the end of the semester.

Similar to Yanez, Meyers also said he was never informed about group counseling availability or other resources when he was originally put on the waitlist. He said he attended a free walk-in assessment event on campus last semester, but was not offered counseling until May.

Meyers said the lack of contact and concern was the reason he did not seek counseling after returning for the fall semester. He said he did not recieve any communication or updates from Counseling Services while on the waitlist.

Junior Will Rzeszutko said he eventually gave up on his original counseling appointment due to the long wait time. He said he was put on the waitlist for counseling his freshman year in fall 2017 and struggled through a challenging time on his own as he waited for over a month to be contacted.

After canceling the November 2017 counseling appointment he waited weeks for, Rzeszutko said he later rescheduled and began counseling in late January 2018. Since starting counseling, Rzeszutko said his monthly sessions have helped him immensely.

Rzeszutko said he has friends who have had issues with their insurance not being accepted for counseling services, so staff availability is not the only problem.

“I’m obviously grateful to have good insurance, but it goes to show that it’s not just a shortage of staff that’s the issue,” Rzeszutko said.

ABOR secretary Karrin Taylor Robson published a statement in June referencing research by the American College Health Association, which highlighted an increased need for mental health care and counseling services for college students.

“The percentage of students who reported receiving treatment for anxiety has increased at a concerning rate from 9.2% in 2010 to 22.1% in 2018 — a 140% uptick just in the last eight years,” Robson said. “During that same time period, we’ve seen a 118% increase in students seeking treatment for depression, which today impacts more than 18% of all college students.”

Robson also said depression can lead to even more severe outcomes.

“Meanwhile, in the last year, 40% of college students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function, with 10% seriously considering suicide,” Robson said.

An increase in calls to local law enforcement regarding suicidal intentions, as reported in recent Police Beats published in The Lumberjack corroborates Robson’s claims.

While it is unclear if help was sought in any of these instances, it is clear that a lack of availability and awareness about counseling is a factor for many students.

“They should be reaching out and seeing if I’m OK, because I mean, with the stuff that’s been going on, it’s part of my school’s responsibility to take part in our well-being,” Yanez said. “By not reaching out, it’s showing that they don’t care.”

Anyone who needs more information or assistance can find it through the Counseling Services website, which lists outside resources, group counseling sessions offered free of charge, anxiety workshops and emergency contacts.

Anyone experiencing a psychological emergency can contact Counseling Services at 928-523-2261 to request a crisis appointment. If students are not experiencing some form of psychological emergency, they can select group counseling as an alternative to the waitlist. A brief assessment is needed prior to attending any group sessions and can be scheduled by calling Counseling Services.