Last spring, College Government (CG) administered a survey to students to gauge awareness of mental health issues and campus resources for mental health care, such as the peer health organizations and the Stone Counseling Center. Around 14 percent of the student body, or 356 participants, completed the survey.
Respondents indicated that the presence of many peer health organizations were not visible to students. Anxiety, depression and eating disorders were the most cited health concerns. The survey results revealed that students had limited knowledge of psychotic and personality disorders; however, they expressed a desire to learn more about different mental health issues.
Additionally, approximately 58 percent of respondents have gone to the Stone Center and overall indicated positive experiences. However, students who have not gone for counseling indicated that they did not go because they heard it was unhelpful, encountered difficulty with scheduling appointments or did not think it was necessary.
At Senate on Monday, Nov. 3, CG President Hana Glasser ’15 presented the survey results and explained the importance of collaboration to address student concerns.
“As CG and myself continue to work on mental health, we are doing this as holistically as possible,” Glasser explained. “A lot of our data is about the Stone Center but this initiative is not about the Stone Center. It is about what every part of the institution, students included, can do to help students the most.”
CG is working with the Stone Center to address student concerns and improve transparency between the Stone Center and students. According to Glasser, students want to know about the Stone Center’s hiring process and whether or not their feedback will be taken into account.
“Students want to know how counselors are hired and what each counselor’s specialty is,” Glasser remarked. “They want to know how their feedback is being used and what changes will be made as a result.”
Robin Cook-Nobles, administrative director of the counseling service and chief psychologist, attributes the negative perception of the Stone Center to Wellesley’s small campus.
“This is a small community so if one person has a less than ideal experience they might complain to others who then might tell others,” Cook-Nobles said. “Once there is a negative belief, it is hard to change it.”
Despite the negative comments and feedback, Cook-Nobles appeals to students who need help to try the Stone Center and encourages them to find the right client and therapist bond. She further asserts that the Stone Center’s top priority is to give good care to students.
An anonymous student responded to the survey and commented on the counselors’ lack of cultural competency.
“Counselors at the Stone Center need to become more aware of cultural differences and adjust therapy methods to the culture or background of students rather than expecting them to change,” an anonymous student said.
Cook-Nobles was surprised by the criticism regarding the staff’s cultural competency and believes that the Stone Center’s staff is diverse and adequately trained to work with students from various backgrounds.
“I remain surprised by students feeling that we are not cross-culturally sensitive or competent. We have one of the most diverse staff on campus and social, cultural, contextual and political experiences of our clients are always taken into consideration,” Cook-Nobles explained. “We bring speakers in each year for seminars on diversity, and I am committed to diversity and in having a diverse staff with varied experiences, perspectives, identities, education and training.”
Many students also cited difficulty they had with making appointments with the Stone Center.
“When I’ve had episodes outside of my scheduled appointment times, I feel like I have nowhere to turn,” an anonymous respondent commented. “To get into the Stone Center immediately, you practically have to tell them you’re suicidal, and even if you think that might be a problem, it’s hard to admit it to yourself and say it to a receptionist.”
When asked about students’ trouble with making appointments, the Stone Center explained that it had been short on office staff, who are responsible for answering phones and scheduling student appointments. Additionally, they lacked a counselor and have now hired a temporary clinician and increased hours of part-time staff members. Currently, it typically takes a week to see a counselor and sometimes students may need to wait 10 days. However, the Stone Center does reserve an hour each day to accommodate student emergencies.
Although a week may seem like a long period of time, Cook-Nobles points out that for external counseling resources, it can take several weeks to get an appointment with a therapist. The Stone Center is currently discussing the possibility of extending office hours and incorporating drop-in hours with the administration.
The CG’s partnership with the Stone Center hopes to implement a resident hall based counselor. Each hall will be assigned a counselor who will not live in the dorms but will be introduced to the students in the beginning of the academic year. The goal is for students to feel comfortable and recognize the assigned counselor as a valuable resource. Glasser believes that this will help make the Stone Center more visible to students.
“The Stone Center’s location as an isolated building on the hill is damaging,” Glasser explained. “People who work at the Stone Center are part of the community and are working to make it stronger. We want to see them and engage with them. From the survey, students want that connection with the Stone Center.”
Active Minds, an organization aimed at dissipating the stigma surrounding mental illness, hosts general meetings every other Wednesday where they discuss specific illnesses. Stephanie Eby ’15, president of Active Minds, explains that these conversations are designed to spread awareness about disorders among students. However, these conversations are not intended to help students self-diagnose or diagnose others.
Additionally, Eby mentioned that it is important to open up the conversation about mental illness on campus since many symptoms arise during one’s college years. This becomes more difficult for students who are away from family and previous support systems.
However, students indicated that Active Minds was less visible than other peer health groups. Eby explained that this might be due to the confusion about their relationship with Mental Health Educators (MHEs). MHEs are members of Active Minds who serve as the liaison between students and the Stone Center. Working in their residential halls, MHEs guide students and inform them about the campus resources available, such as the Stone Center’s office hours and how students can make appointments. The Stone Center also offers an online screening forum on their website, which helps to assesses whether a student needs to seek counseling.
CG will also work with Lori Tenser, dean of the first year class, in hopes of integrating mental health education into orientation for the Class of 2019. Glasser expressed that incoming students should know what resources are available on campus. She also believes that student leaders in residential life, such as house presidents and residential assistants, need more training on how to deal with mental health issues.
Glasser acknowledged that survey responses indicated that students are curious to know if the faculty receives training about student mental health issues.
“There is a low understanding among students about the conversations and training faculty undergo,” Glasser said.
Provost Andrew Shennan and his office will help reach out to faculty and ensure that they know how to approach cases in which students suffer from mental illness.
CG is currently discussing survey results in collaboration with each of the offices and organizations and is planning to further address the concerns raised in the survey. They will present their progress at Senate regularly and Glasser will include the updates in her President’s Corner updates in The Wellesley News.
Photo by Bianca Pichamuthu ’16, Photography Editor