Wellness Center two week counseling wait time

With finals season emerging through the lulling satisfaction of Thanksgiving break, cheery, upbeat moods are suddenly being replaced with somber in December as students feel an encroaching pressure to perform well. At Northwest, Wellness Services is the face of aid for those struggling, but there was a three-week wait time for students seeking counseling services in November. As of now, the wait time has dropped to two weeks.

Equipped with five counselors, four full-time and one part time, for the 7,104 on-campus students, the Wellness Center is challenged with providing adequate mental and physical health services during busy and stress-inducing times of the year. Wellness Services has several programs in place to relieve the short staff of counselors.

Assistant Director of Wellness Services Kristen Peltz said there are a number of different services available when the office is busy helping a large number of students.

“With the counseling services themselves, there can be a bit of a challenge,” Peltz said. “We work with our step to care model … which is this idea that some people will absolutely be in counseling, and that’s perfectly fine, but we also want to make sure they know what other options are.”

According to the Wellness Services web page, it provides counseling, prevention, outreach and education for students and faculty. In addition, there is a clinical side that is staffed with a physician, nurse practitioners, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

The counseling, prevention, outreach and education are all free to students on and off campus. For students to take advantage of its services, the Wellness Center prefers they make an appointment, either by phone or online, but the office also welcomes walk-ins for all services.

Counseling provided is focused on personal development and looks to common counseling concerns. Students can use the counseling services for depression, anxiety, adjustment to college, body image and other concerns students may have throughout the school year.

If students are uncomfortable with meeting a counselor, or have a schedule conflict, there are other opportunities on campus and online.

Some of these opportunities come in the form of on-campus activities, workshops and presentations for students who would like to better their mental stability. Two common workshops the Wellness Center hosts are “Dare to Self-Care” and “#Relationships.”

Peltz said one way Wellness is tackling mental health issues is through implementing a peer coaching program, where some of the students that come in for counseling are partnered with trained individuals to help with problems like social anxiety, building time management and making meaningful connections on campus.

“We have lots of areas (students) can be without just being in that traditional counseling,” Peltz said.

According to the American Psychological Association, there was a 30% overall increase in appointments made to counseling centers on campuses nationwide from 2014-15. That year there was only a 5% overall increase in enrollment.

In that same study, the APA found 61% of students who seek counseling report anxiety and 49% report dealing with severe stress.

With finals week beginning Dec. 9, many Northwest students have been struggling with mental stability as make-or-break tests quickly approach them. Students on campus were asked to rate their stress on a scale from one to 10, one being the least stressed and 10 being the most stressed.

Harley Chappell is a nanoscale biology major who rated her stress an eight at this time in the semester. James Mullaney is a data science major who rated his stress a four.

Some students who have experienced high amounts of stress have had a positive experience in the Wellness Center.

According to the Wellness Services web page, students consistently report high satisfaction with the staff and care they receive. The website reports 100% of students who utilize services recommend on campus counseling to other students, and that 97% of students surveyed report that the counselling service helped them stay in college.

Active Minds is an organization on campus that works with Wellness Services as a part of the Prevention Outreach and Education program. POE spreads awareness about mental health and provides workshops that are open to the entire campus.

For students that are unable to attend counseling services, Active Minds provides a way for them to get help from peers and someone from wellness.

Active Minds member Madison Goldman said she has used the counseling services on campus on several occasions since September.

“(It’s) pretty good. I mean, there’s some flaws, but like overall for free counseling, I think it’s pretty good,” Goldman said.

Often used as a last resort, online modules are made available to students through the Wellness Services page on the Northwest website, where they can work through information on how to cope with depression, anxiety, stress and numerous other issues when it is convenient for them.

“The idea is to have lots of different layers of services, that way we can meet people where they are as opposed to just assuming everyone is going to need counseling,” Peltz said.

The B.D. Owens Library saw a spike of students flowing through its doors the evening of Dec. 2, the first day of classes after Thanksgiving break. Many working on final projects and studying for impactful tests, quiet study rooms filled up, and hopes of lower stress levels sank in.

Sophomore Eric Heidenescher said he takes advantage of study tools to help him relax during stressful times.

“It’s not easy finding time to relax,” Heidenescher said. “I find going to a tutor that is offered by the Student Success Center can help with reviewing for finals and lowering my stress level about my upcoming finals. Also, Starbucks is a great help at keeping me energized to study.”

Northwest Wellness Services encourages students to take advantage of services available, and are working to serve students with adequate resources for mental and physical health in times of increased stress. The office hopes to get wait times down even further than the two-week period that is, as of now, required.

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