Second in a three-part series
The recent rise in diagnoses on campuses have proven to be a burden on college counseling centers across the country. During the 2014-2015 school year, LCCC counselors had 360 personal appointments due to an emotional or mental health issue. On average, the crisis counselors on campus see 98 students for crisis intervention, according to Kuntz.
“We do have five clinical counselors with a background in education and the experience that is necessary to deal with people in crisis,” Kuntz said. This means that each LCCC crisis counselor sees roughly 72 students per school year.
275 counseling center directors were polled for the 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers. Those from schools with a population between 7,500 – 15,000, reported that there were an average of 2,165 students per mental health professional. With an enrollment of 10,681 students this semester, and five crisis counselors on staff, LCCC’s ratio sits just below that average at 2,136 students to one counselor. The ideal ratio is 1,000:1 according to “The State of Mental Health on College Campuses,” a research essay published in Inquiry in 2012.
“When I started here five years ago, we had four full time counselors, now we have one,” Kuntz said. “So, the decrease in our staff numbers and total hours is a real issue.”
This is an occurrence, not just at LCCC, but at colleges across the U.S. College counseling centers continue to be understaffed, according to the Inquiry essay. For students, the effects can mean longer wait times from the time a student is referred to the time the student completes the intake process, longer times between appointments, and less of a chance that the center can afford to complete follow-ups on students that have left their care.
76.6 percent of college counseling center directors reported decreasing the number of visits for students being seen for a non-crisis issue in order to cope with the increasing number of overall patients, according to the 2010 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA). Many colleges are also turning to triage protocols, which means that students with less critical needs may have to wait for several weeks before they’re seen for their first appointment, according to the New York Times.
“What a lot of them [counseling centers] seem to do is they try and do what they can but they view themselves as providing short term counseling,” said Myra Kawaguchi, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who practices at Allied Behavioral Health Services in Lorain. “I think a lot try to refer folks who need longer treatment or more intensive treatment to their community resources.”
For LCCC, counselors can only provide students, faculty, and staff with short-term care, typically between five to six appointments, according to Kuntz. He also said that LCCC’s counseling staff are on call as long as their office is open, which is usually 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The office stays open late two days a week; Mondays and Thursdays, until 7:30 p.m. However, if those appointment sessions are used up, the student must find help off campus.
“We do not become their long-term therapists,” Kuntz said. “The goal of the crisis intervention is to always get them hooked up with local service,” he said, adding that LCCC partners with the Nord Center. Nord is a private non-profit organization that offers behavioral healthcare services.
This is where, not just mental health, but health care in general, can be tricky for students enrolled in two year institutions.
Researchers believe that most community college students do not have access to off-campus mental health services, according the essay published in Inquiry. The essay also notes that these students are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured compared to their four-year college peers.
‘The problems on college campuses, that that’s related to healthcare,” Kawaguchi said, “there are cracks. I think that’s partly why colleges are trying to do so much. And colleges are different; there’s community colleges and there’s more residential focused colleges. I don’t think that student health and student counseling centers, my impression is they didn’t aspire to do quite so much decades ago. It was much more about their functioning as a student. I think it’s gotten really complicated fast for them,” Kawaguchi said.
Despite this, off-campus referrals continue to trend upward, as found by the 2014 APA survey.
55 percent of participating counseling centers have increased their referral networks. However, only 26 percent of centers have increased their on-campus counseling staff. Community college service boards also lack the capability to provide students expedient counseling and psychiatric aid, according to the Inquiry essay.
“The strain on us and other institutions or programs that do this, it is a real factor,” said Kuntz. “What we do is, we meet as a clinical team and we make sure that no one is taking too many cases or taking too many serious cases,” he said.
“I have a lot of admiration for what a lot of [colleges] are trying to do,” said Kawaguchi, “because, they’re trying to do everything they can and they’re not enough.”