Students in need urged to seek help

Marina McGowan

Being a college student can be an exciting and rewarding time in life. But with that excitement can come stress, uncertainty, relationship problems and academic difficulties. University counseling provides an opportunity for students to meet with a trained, professional counselor who can offer objective, non-judgmental feedback about their concerns.

A counselor will not try to “fix” student’s problems or make them do anything. Instead, he or she can ask questions and make observations that may help students get new perspectives on their concerns and new ideas on how to solve them. Some counseling is done in professionally led groups, whereby people can help and support each other.

The existence of on-campus counseling services has become especially relevant after Ryan J. O’Neil of Covina, Calif., a 20-year-old sophomore physician assistant major in the School of Health Sciences, died unexpectedly off-campus on Monday, March 22.

“Anytime a member of this community dies, especially a student, it’s devastating,” Associate Dean of Student Affairs Cheryl Barnard said. “I think the students need to reach out if they’re having difficulties. We have three trained counselors who are very good at what they do. There is enough professional staff around that students shouldn’t be afraid to reach out.”

More than 240 new students since the past fall semester have visited the counseling office, consultant/psychotherapist Julian Hartt said. Unlike other schools that have a two-week waiting period, students at Quinnipiac can get in to see the counselors in less than three days.

“We all meet together and are well-trained,” Hartt said. “The interaction between Residential Life and Counseling Services is unique and there is an open give and take relationship between the departments.”

The average number of visits for students who come into the office is between three and six visits. Sometimes there are students who come in that need to be referred to specialists in the community and sometimes there is a need for special programs or medication.

Hartt, who has been consulting at the University for five years, says that the counseling system is set up to respond to students’ needs quickly. “In the wake of the last loss, everyone is tuned to kids with troubles,” Hartt said. “If you think someone looks funny, tell me and let me be the judge of that.”

In comparison, New York University’s counseling office has a policy to cap student’s visits.

Students may meet with a counselor 20 times while at the university, but only 12 times in a row. Like NYU, Columbia provides limited, yet flexible counseling sessions, but only eight in a row. Columbia counseling sessions also include ‘Nightline,’ a peer-led hotline.

The Quinnipiac counseling center offers group therapies, as well as individual sessions. All counseling services are kept anonymous unless the student poses a risk of injury to him or herself. In such cases, the school is notified immediately and so are the parents. The staff at the University believes that counseling is most effective when students feel safe discussing personal information, without worrying that their information might be released without their permission.

Hartt’s is concerned that O’Neil’s death weighs heavily on the students.

“Your generation has experienced significant losses and that’s hard,” Hartt said. “Death has a contingent effect. One loss triggers another loss, whether it is the death of a grandparent or the death of a friend. I think that is what makes this a difficult sort of thing. We are all on heightened alert with people and that’s why the professional staff is on hand to deal with such losses.”

Colleges across the country are reporting that increasing numbers of students are seeking mental health services for illnesses or conditions ranging from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, stress and suicide.

According to a recent Hartford Courant article, a survey by the American College Health Association last spring found that an estimated 38 percent of college students reported depression severe enough that they had difficulty functioning on at least one to 10 occasions in the past year.

The survey also showed that nine percent of students seriously considered suicide during the same period. The results were based on responses from 19,497 students on 33 campuses.

Depression is common among college students, especially those who use drugs and alcohol. At NYU, there were four deaths in the past year, two of which were ruled suicides. At Columbia, there has been no student suicide in nearly two years; however, six Columbia students committed suicide between January 2000 and December 2001.

Nationally, an estimated 1,100 college students a year commit suicide, making it the second leading cause of death among college students, second only to car crashes. In 2000, suicide was the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24, following unintentional injuries and homicide, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

There is no single explanation as to why a student commits suicide. A suicide attempt is a “cry for help” and a request for social support. People who are suicidal are letting their feelings be known, indicating that their problems seem overwhelming.

According to the University website, the counseling staff of Quinnipiac is committed to fostering the development of the members of our student body by offering individual personal counseling, as well as programming designed to enhance their personal and educational growth. The staff activities are guided by the holistic philosophy that the life process of development is fostered when each individual student is assisted in self-enhancement leading to more responsible and effective behavior.

Counselors, student affairs professionals and residence hall staff are available to assist students and others who may seek counseling. If students need assistance, they are urged to contact the Residence Hall Director on duty through Security at x8200. Students can also call the Counseling Center during the day at x8680.