Counseling services overwhelmed

Photo illustration by Caleb Autry.

A focus of NAU is the health and well-being of its growing student population. One of the many services offered are programs to combat stress, depression and promote overall mental health.

According to NAU’S Campus Health Services’ mental health page, “77 percent of students seen in Counseling Services agree or strongly agree that they are making healthier lifestyle choices as a result of their experience.”

A powerpoint on student mental health on campus was presented by Julie Ryan, executive director of Health Services, Megan Gavin, director of Campus Health Counseling Services and Melissa Griffin, director of Health Promotions.

The powerpoint mainly addressed major issues that NAU’s students dealt with when it comes to their mental health.

“Many students are experiencing depression, anxiety and other issues that are impacting their student academic success,” the powerpoint stated. “NAU’s counseling services have seen a 70 percent increase in the number of students served between 2010 and 2016.”

Along with this statement, the powerpoint also stated these services need to be better staffed.

“NAU counseling services is short staffed and can’t get more people in the door,” the powerpoint stated. “They are unable to see any new regular patients due to the wait list.”

However, NAU Mental Health Services has eight full-time counselors along with two part-time and three interns to help students, according to Gavin.

In response to the issues students have vocalized, Gavin explained the problem of not being able to see enough students and their plan to address this.

“Based on the fact that we currently have a waitlist for students seeking ongoing counseling, no, we are not meeting the demand from students at this time,” said Gavin while adding they have plans to expand their services to help.

Students who are in an emergency will be seen by crisis counseling, according to the NAU’s website.

The powerpoint also listed resources and activities that faculty can urge students to participate in, like PAWS your stress and Stressbusters.

“If a faculty member phones the center and says a student is in crisis, the student will be seen immediately but not likely otherwise,” stated the powerpoint.

One of the complaints from students about these services is how despite the talk of availability, it’s extremely hard for some people in need of help to get an appointment for an initial meeting.

Leo Oxenborg, a freshman at NAU, explained that she struggled her first semester to get the help she wanted from NAU’s mental health services.

“It was really difficult to get an appointment just because you have to get there really early,” Oxenborg said. “You can’t really call and schedule appointments, they only take walk-ins for first time appointments.”

Oxenborg said the first time she went in for help she was unsuccessful in getting an appointment and was told to come back the next morning as early as possible.

When Oxenborg came back the next day, she got an appointment and filled out all the forms required. Then she met with her counselor. After this meeting, she had to book her next appointment and ran into her first issue.

Oxenborg said when booking her next appointment, she had to convince and argue with her counselor to get a weekly appointment, as opposed to a bi-weekly appointment.

“The thing about the appointments is you have to schedule your next appointment at that appointment,” Oxenborg said. “It took me a while to finally convince them I needed weekly appointments.”

Oxenborg was surprised the first few times she asked she was told they normally do bi-weekly. At first she thought to herself they’re doing the best they can. But after a while, she thought about the promise and promotion based on NAU’s counseling services website of easy and accessible services. She felt it wasn’t as easy as it seems.

Oxenborg said that she fears how much work is required to get access to these resources, many students will miss the help they need because of the toll mental health issues can take on a student. She said that she did not want students to have the issues she did.

“I went in for my normal appointment time and they told me my counselor was booked for the next four weeks,” Oxenborg said.

During this time, Oxenborg said she struggled to advocate for herself as a result of not having her medication that she is prescribed and her conditions worsening. Eventually, she was able to refill her medication in time and received help from Bo Schwabacher, a professor at NAU.

Oxenborg said that during this time she was never told or explained to why she was booked out for four weeks and couldn’t be seen, which made her feel like she had been forgotten about.

Freshman Sydney Nielsen has also had issues with counseling at NAU as she is has experienced trouble finding a therapist for the first time.

“I have never had a tough time getting a therapist [before coming to NAU],” Nielsen said. “So the fact that [getting a therapist] is harder at my school, where I live, sucks.”

Nielsen explained that whenever she tried to get an appointment, workers at counseling services told her they didn’t have any room to fit her or her roommate in. Eventually they stopped trying to get an appointment.

“They would never have any time open in their schedule, it made me feel like mental health really wasn’t as important as they claim to say it is,” Nielsen said, explaining she worries for others who are struggling and need help.

Although, Nielsen explained that she has also gone to urgent care in the HLC, she felt dissatisfied with her experiences.

“They aren’t very helpful,” Nielsen said. “I have also gone into urgent [care] and they aren’t very warm and welcoming. It seems they don’t want to be there.”

Neilsen explained she worries about students missing out on the services and is frustrated with the troubles she has had.

“It’s frustrating as a full-time student and stressful,” Nielsen said. “It affects you a lot mentally. The fact that I can’t get the help I need sometimes interferes with my studies which shouldn’t be an issue.”

However, this isn’t just an issue specific to NAU. Many universities all over the country, and students who attend these universities, struggle with meeting the demand for mental health and counseling services, as well.

The current outlook for mental health services is in a dangerous place and students are worried about how much support they will be able to receive in comparison to what was promised. However, addressing and talk of fixing these issues could help students with their fears and concerns.