Boston College should evaluate the efficacy of mental health services provided on campus in order to determine how to best serve the mental health needs of the student population. Some improvements that should be implemented include the creation of an email or messaging service to schedule appointments with University Counseling Services (UCS) and an increase of UCS staff who handle the process of getting referrals to off-campus mental health care providers. Mental health care is a critical need, especially for college students, and it is in the best interest of all members of the BC community to ensure this need is being adequately met.
The main provider of mental health care at BC is UCS, which provides traditional one-on-one therapy, group sessions, same-day consultations, medication management, emergency services, and referrals to outside providers. During a normal year, an average of 15 percent of the student population uses services at UCS, which is more than the average of 9.6 percent for institutions of similar sizes. Despite the demand from students, UCS is plagued by negative student perception, which can deter students from using its resources.
One example of a discouraging rumor around campus alleges that students often have to wait more than a day for an appointment at UCS. Any student can schedule a same-day consultation by calling the UCS office that morning. This consultation serves as a one-off therapy session in which a clinician evaluates the best path of care for the student. It can take about two weeks to schedule a one-on-one therapy session after the initial same-day consultation, but this is a reasonable wait that is similar to other clinics.
Another frequent complaint about UCS is that the number of individual counseling sessions that a student has access to is limited. There is no session limit, but like most college counseling programs, UCS is designed for short-term services, so most students go to about six to eight sessions, which is standard given that the average number of sessions that college students attend at on-campus clinics is five. UCS helps students who want more intensive, frequent treatment to get referrals to outside providers.
The referral process can be frustrating, especially with the complications of insurance coverage and transportation costs, but the solution to this problem is not the expansion of UCS to provide long-term care. UCS would need to significantly increase its staff in order to provide long-term care to all students who want and need it. Instead, UCS should increase the number of its staff who handle referrals to make it easier for students to continue receiving care elsewhere.
In addition to staff increases, UCS should expand its virtual services to allow for email or live chat appointment requests, as phone calls asking for mental health assistance can cause stress and anxiety—especially for students who are already struggling with those issues. This addition would build on the work that UCS did in response to rising levels of stress associated with the pandemic last year, when it expanded virtual services.
It is also important to note that UCS is not the only mental health resource on campus. Other on-campus programs and student-led groups supplement the resources provided by UCS. Lean on Me at BC is a student-run, anonymous text hotline for students who are looking for non-crisis assistance, and works to remove the stigma of asking for help through its anonymous format. The Boston College chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA-BC) aims to further break this stigma through events that foster conversations about mental health. The Office of Health Promotion provides support through online wellness assessments, wellness coaching sessions to help students with developing personal goals and strategies, and The Body Project, which is led by peer leaders for female-identifying students.
Mentorship and community are also important components of creating a healthy support network. Ascend, a program for first-year women offered through the Center for Student Formation, provides opportunities for meaningful conversations and mentorship through weekly meetings and a retreat. The Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center’s AHANA Summit creates community among AHANA students and provides opportunities for students to share their experiences, and also offers additional resources.
This year especially, college students are under immense stress because of the negative effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mental health in addition to the normal stressors of academic pressure and seasonal depression. In the span of two weeks, St. Louis University grappled with two suicides and the precipitating feelings of isolation and loneliness that followed. On Oct. 12, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled classes one day last week due to two suicide investigations that began over the previous weekend. There is a mental health crisis that is taking place across the nation, and it is exacerbated by academic and social stresses experienced on college campuses.
The demand for and necessity of UCS is clear, so it is paramount that BC continues to take steps to ensure it is able to meet the needs of the student body: add more staff, make it easier to schedule appointments, and continue to provide UCS with support.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact University Counseling Services at 617-552-3310 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.