UCS Reports Increase in Students Seeking Mental Health Services

Editor’s note: This story contains the mention of suicide, a topic that may be disturbing to some readers.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact Boston College’s University Counseling Services at 617-552-3310 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Craig Burns, director of University Counseling Services (UCS) at Boston College, said there has been a noticeable increase in students seeking help through UCS this academic year. 

“This year, as would have been predicted, [there are] certainly more students coming in,” Burns said. “It was a built-up demand.”

Universities and colleges across the country have been facing a student mental health crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent college students home from their campuses in the spring of 2020. Many of these students did not return to campus, instead taking classes virtually, and those who did return faced a college life tainted by COVID-19.

College students have since shown increased levels of anxiety and isolation, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a quarter of young adults considered suicide during the pandemic months.  

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled classes on Oct. 12 to give its students a “Wellness Day” after two suicides and an attempted suicide that occurred in residence halls the weekend prior.  

Over the last decade, there has been a large population of people seeking out mental health care, particularly in reporting themselves at a high level of crisis, according to Burns.

“The trends over the previous decade have … [shown] the increasing presentation of particular anxiety,” Burns said. “There are definitely more people seeking services … and particularly seeking crisis services.”

UCS hopes to confront this issue by opening up more accessible services to BC students to further address their needs, he said.  

“We made some changes in the way we deliver service a couple of years ago … to open up more rapid access,” Burns said.

After students were sent home from campus in March 2020, telehealth services became a common way in which people received help, Burns said. Since then, UCS worked to expand to new services that  it believed would support students to a greater degree. 

“Last year … we had more drop-in-style support groups, as a way for people to access us when they were just needing support, rather than when they were at that really elevated level,” he said.

This year, UCS is continuing to provide hybrid services for individuals.

“We’ve had pretty close to 50/50 selections by students on whether to schedule those appointments in person or by telehealth,” Burns said.

People are becoming increasingly comfortable with addressing the mental health issues they are experiencing than in years past, according to the American Psychological Association. A big priority for UCS has been addressing that growing need. 

“People are more familiar with the idea of engaging with treatment, and also more comfortable,” Burns said. “There’s less stigma attached to that. What we are trying to do this year is again maintain that availability in the face of growing demands.”

Ainsley Kohler, the head of communications and PR at BC’s chapter of Lean on Me, a national confidential peer-to-peer text line, said that Lean on Me hopes to fill the gap between the services UCS is able to provide and the support that students need. 

“We exist to fill a gap that UCS can never really fill,” Kohler, MCAS ’23, said. “There are so many students on campus. As an independent student group we have more control over what we expose our supporters to versus admin, [which] I’m sure is a much slower process.”

Lean on Me plans to work with a much broader range of students to meet their needs this year. One way it hopes to do so is through partnerships with student organizations. 

“We’re really excited to hopefully continue … peer support workshops with different organizations on campus,” Kohler said. “Having the opportunity to go into all sorts of student orgs, not just mental health-related, and just sit down and talk with students about what it means to be a supporter to the people around you.”

Burns said he appreciates that student organizations are able to provide additional support to students who are struggling with their mental health.

“Over the last few years, I have really appreciated seeing the growth in student engagement around mental health through a number of different groups and interests, whether that’s through Lean on Me or other groups,” Burns said. “That’s the level that helps make a big difference when students can connect with peers without the stigma and with a sense of acceptance and support.”

Featured Image by Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff

October 24, 2021