Florida’s public university students want more psychological counseling, but many of the state’s schools can’t keep up with this demand, according to a recent investigation by The Tampa Bay Times that also showed that some students are waiting up to a month for appointments with a school counselor because counseling centers are understaffed.
Cheryl Nowell is the assistant vice president of counseling and health services at Florida International University (FIU). WLRN's Lisann Ramos spoke with her about how FIU’s counseling center is trying to keep up with this increased demand.
What are the common issues that come up in university counseling?
It's been pretty consistent over the years that students come in for concerns about mental health when it's starting to impact their academic performance. So stress, of course, is the No. 1 reason, and then comes depression, anxiety and relationships.
Has this changed over the years?
What has changed is that students are more willing to come into counseling than ever before. More students are entering college with a history of mental health issues and maybe counseling services. And so they're coming in expecting that.
Have you seen an increase in demand for counseling appointments?
We have. What's happening over the past few years is that counseling centers are finding themselves spending more time dealing with students in crisis or who have a more urgent problem. And so we put our resources in dealing with a suicide crisis and therefore have fewer resources to deal with more normal depressions that people experience throughout their life.
So what we're doing is adding more group therapy programs because we do see many students coming in with the same issues. And we've also been using an online program that's a Therapy Assisted Online (TAO). So [this high demand] is forcing the counseling centers to really be innovative and to try different modes of treatment and different ways to see as many students as possible.
Yet there's a higher demand even though there's a lot more ways to get access to help?
I think most people think of counseling as one to one. You're in an office and talking with this therapist. Students are more aware of apps, so that's something that they even recommend to us to look at. But they're not as prepared for the group therapy or the online component. So they're coming in with the expectation of the one-on-one therapy.
Some of our therapists are saying they think the students really miss that one-on-one connection because they're always online and the way they interact and communicate is so technology based. My colleagues think students really enjoy that one-to-one time with a therapist and that focus on their personal development.
What do you find are the differences between students in South Florida and those in other universities?
The kind of diversity that we have with Latin America and the Caribbean is fairly unique. So when you're talking about attitudes toward mental health and seeking help; in addition to the general kinds of stigma, you also have the cultural impact of what their cultures say about mental health. What do their cultures believe about people going to doctors and going to hospitals? That's probably the largest differences nationally and within the state of Florida.
FIU is mainly a commuter school at the moment. So a lot of the issues facing students could be more family oriented because a lot of them are still at home.
Many times we have first generation students and their families are still expecting a lot of them to continue spending time at home and in their community. They have all these new pressures: being part of college, the academic pressures and the classes. So that transition can be more difficult for students if the family is not supportive and actually has expectations that the student will be participating with the family just like they did in the past.