The wait time to seek counseling at Wellness Services has dropped to just a week at the start of the semester, but wellness on campus looks different for students who are in urgent need of mental health services.
When the four full-time and one part-time counselor staff is overbooked and unable to meet with students, the Wellness Center commonly recommends an online self-help tool known as Therapy Assistance Online. Through this tool, students watch videos and complete exercise modules that take close to 40 minutes on average per week.
However, the website shows in bold red lettering that the TAO resource is experiencing technical issues that students have brought to the attention of the Wellness Center.
“We know that when issues are resolved, TAO will be a great resource for the Northwest community,” according to the announcement on the Wellness website.
Assistant Director of Wellness Services Judy Frueh said the modules are effective for those that use them regularly but are less helpful when students only participate in them every now and then.
“TAO studies show that when the modules are used regularly, there is trackable growth,” Frueh said. “We have these resources for students, free and easily accessible, as easy as a click on our website.”
Executive Director and Assistant Vice President of Health and Wellness Gerald Wilmes said there are a number of ways Wellness reaches out to students to let them know what alternatives there are.
“We get that it’s not just the counseling … We are always benchmarking what others are doing and how they’re meeting demands,” Wilmes said.
Wilmes said the Wellness Center meets with other colleges through the American College Health Association, where they learn what other schools are doing to combat mental illness.
Wilmes said the wait times for counseling services at the beginning of the semester start out low and grow as the semester continues. Wilmes said this is a recurring pattern the Wellness Center sees every semester.
When the wait times increases, students who are a danger to themselves or others can receive immediate service through triage, or emergency response to dire situations, provided by the Wellness Center. In addition to triage counseling, the University carries out well-being checks that are issued when concern for suicidal behaviour is reported to University Police.
If a person is believed to be in immediate danger to themselves, they are placed on a mental health hold at Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville for at least 96 hours.
In order to make mental health services the most adequate for students, the Wellness office has taken steps in the last decade to expand awareness of the growing issues regarding college-age mental health.
Wilmes, who is also a primary care doctor for the Wellness Center, said in his experience over the last 10 years there has been a constant increasing demand and need for counseling due to the “vertical” growth of mental illness. Due to this growth in mental illness, the Wellness Center has added two counseling positions in the last 10 years.
Though Northwest would like to increase counseling options for students, Wilmes said experts in the area don’t believe institutions can “hire out of the issue.”
Wilmes said, “Let’s say, if we could magically double our counseling, most experts believe we’d still have problems.”
Wilmes said his experiences with ACHA meeting workshops show most schools find it best to integrate the counselling services with the clinical services. Northwest didn’t take this step until 2006.
The two services, counseling and clinical, used to be housed in different buildings on campus and were two separate entities with separate funding systems. Due to budgetary reasons and proven effectiveness of services, they were integrated in 2006.
Wilmes said the step was essential and has shown that it is the best practice to help meet the needs of students.
“Obviously it takes a village, so to speak, to address this issue, ” Wilmes said while explaining that many schools can have up to a four to six week wait times for counseling during the latter part of the semester.”
Integration of services is shown by example when students visit the Wellness Center for the clinic services. When students show up for an appointment regarding their physical health, nurses and primary care doctors will ask students at least once a semester how they are mentally.
The nurse assisting the student will give a quick verbal survey to the student on their mental health and input their answers into the computer systems.
The integrated Wellness Center is not the only way the team at Wellness Services can aid the needs of students who need immediate service with mental health.
“What are the additional things that we can kinda do to supplement and complement direct, face-to-face counseling?” Wilmes said as he explained the need to find ways to aid the growing demand for counseling, not only through hiring new counselors but through the various other resources offered by Wellness Services.