The increase in students requesting mental health services at UVM — particularly during finals —may actually be a very good sign, several university officials said.
As the stigma around getting support for mental health issues dissipates, students are more likely to seek help, said Jon Porter, director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing.
The number of students requesting mental health services has increased over the past few decades, he said.
“Visits to [Counseling and Psychiatry Services] have increased steadily over the past decade, now to over 14,000 visits per year,” Porter said. “I think all of us who have been working with college students in the past few decades have seen an increase in demand for mental health services. It’s not just at UVM. It’s part of a national trend.”
The cause of increased demand is two-fold, CAPS Director Todd Weinman said.
“Demand for campus mental health services has increased significantly over the past ten years,” Weinman said. “Students are coming to college more willing to access services, as well as reporting more stress than previous cohorts.”
The types of issues that students come in to discuss are more complex and challenging than when he began working at the University in 1997, Porter said.
In previous decades, students came in seeking help with homesickness and relationship troubles, he said. Today, more students come in for help managing anxiety and depression.
While more students come in to discuss academic stress, the increased demand for mental health services may actually be a good sign, Porter said.
Today, the stigma around getting help is less than it once was, he said.
“I know our major priority has been to make getting help okay,” he said. “Really, we’re happy that these needs and issues are coming to us, that students are willing to talk about it.”
There is an uptick in demand for services around mid- terms and finals due to academic stress, he said.
“If there is an uptick near finals, it is not always necessarily due to mental health concerns,” said Annie Stevens, vice provost of Student Affairs, “as much as it is a normal increase in stress that can often be prevented or managed with advanced planning, healthy behaviors, and time management.”
Students schedule more appointments with CAPS at the end of the semester, when they have to deal with stress related to finals and finishing their courses for the term, Weinman said.
The University’s success in helping students be mentally healthy has to do with the community’s willingness to help one another, Porter said.
The success can also be linked to the laid-back climate of the UVM community, Senior Emi Eakin said.
“UVM is a human place where people actually care about each other,” Porter said. “We have a balance here that’s healthier in terms of academic stress compared to other institutions … People look out for each other.”
The Center for Health and Wellbeing has formalized the UVM culture of looking out for each other with Concern And/or Risk Event forms. With CARE forms, anyone can anonymously report their concern of the mental health of UVM community members, Porter said.
“There has been a significant increase in community members identifying students at risk through the Dean of Students CARE form,” Weinman said, “and in making referrals to CAPS and other campus re- sources.”
In online CARE forms, concerned faculty or students can identify students who need help, according to the Dean of Students website. Completed forms, which ask for the subject’s unhealthy behaviors and symptoms of mental issues, elicit a response team of CAPS counselors and university staff, Porter said.
Other campus-based programs, like the suicide prevention and bystander intervention training offered by Campus Connect and Step-Up have helped the University identify and direct resources to at-risk students, he said.
It also helps that UVM has a more laidback environment, Eakin said. Eakin, a biological science major who transferred from Boston University her junior year, said UVM has more realistic academic demands of the student body.
“At BU, people rested their entire social and academic existence on finals, grades and GPA,” Eakin said. “It was just too unrealistic to succeed.”
UVM feels healthier because people are able to put their academic failures and successes into perspective, she said. At BU, the streets were full of students with loaded backpacks walking home from studying at 3 a.m., Eakin said.
“At UVM, when I walk home from the library, things are pretty much deserted by 11 at night,” she said. “Here, realistic expectations naturally lead to less stress. If teachers give you reasonable goals, a reasonable amount of work, it’s a lot easier to be satisfied with how you’re doing.”
Still, some UVM students feel stress to perform well academically.
“Stress is undoubtedly very high during finals week,” senior Alex Lockhart said, “I think overall the University does a good job in bringing awareness to the importance of mental health.”
Lockhart said she appreciates the various services UVM provides to cope with stress.
“I know the free meditation and yoga classes have really helped me in previous years, so cheers to the Living Well center,” she said.
The University needs to expand staff in order to keep up with the increase in demand for appointments, Porter said.
[media-credit name=”National Alliance on Mental Illness’ 2012 National College Students Speak Study” align=”aligncenter” width=”1024″][/media-credit]
In order to keep waiting times down, the University is considering adding two counselors to the CAPS team, Stevens said.
Student requests for sup- port have “put a strain on resources at colleges all over the country,” Weinman said. “We are looking at creative ways to help as many students as we can with current resources, while also trying to expand resources so that we can meet the level of demand.”
In addition to supporting students who are experiencing mental health problems, the Center for Health and Wellbeing aims to equip students with the tools they need to manage their stress in a healthy manner, Porter said.
At the end of the semester, Living Well expands its offering of year-round yoga, meditation and mindful eating classes to include special De-stress Central programming.
From Dec. 12-16, during the final exam period, students can get massages, eat free snacks, take yoga classes and make crafts at the Davis Center office.
“It’s almost always possible for us to help students get through what they’re going through if they’re able to access the available resources,” Porter said.
If you’re concerned about the mental health of a member of the UVM community, you can anonymously fill out a CARE form or contact the dean of students office directly.