Editor’s Note: This story and “Getting help when you need it” are connected. A link to the other story will be provided at the bottom of this page.
About the time professors are working to squeeze in one last assignment before finals, stress and anxiety levels among students are often higher than normal. But for an increasing number of college students, these levels are high just about every single day.
Counseling centers at colleges across the country are seeing an increase in requests for services, and things are no different here at Grand Rapids Community College. GRCC Interim Program Director for the Counseling and Career Development Center Stacey Heisler said that there are many factors that have contributed to the growing rate of anxiety and depression among college students.
“(It) depends on what you read,” Heisler said. “Some is based on solid research, and some is anecdotal, so it’s always good to rely on empirical resources. Theories suggest that there are generational contributing factors (i.e., decreased resiliency for holding difficult emotions, socioeconomic realities, greater isolation due to social media and the internet), but we also know that more individuals who have been treated for depression are attending college, who might not have attended years prior. For example, according to the GRCC Healthy Minds Study of 2016-2017, 57 percent of 685 surveyed students who screened positive for depression or anxiety answered positively to the question ‘Have you ever received counseling or therapy for mental health concerns?”’
Heisler also said GRCC’s counseling staff is having trouble keeping up with the requests for services due to high demand.
“We are indeed a small staff with three faculty members who are licensed practitioners,” said Heisler. “We hold multiple responsibilities at the college as required by all faculty, as well as administrative roles and a split position with another program on campus. We provide both personal and career counseling by appointment, as well as same-day crisis assessment for urgent mental health care. But there is much work to be done that is both programmatic (i.e, preventative care) as well as individual appointments and indeed, it is quite challenging (but deeply rewarding) to keep up with the needs of our community. It’s a trend that exists in higher education and we all need to advocate for access to mental health care services both on our campus and in the greater community.”
GRCC President Bill Pink believes that the focus on mental health continues to grow not just at GRCC, but in higher education in general.
“Our focus has to continue to grow because we know that the needs of our students, as well as the needs of our faculty and staff, continue to swirl,” Pink said. “On a college campus, you have the pressures of an academic offering, as well as the pressures that students may be getting at home, at work. This semester at GRCC about 73 percent of students that are enrolled are part-time. What that tells us is that many of our students are working, they have families, they have other obligations, and that’s all they have time for is two, maybe three classes. So what (that) tells us is that there’s a lot of other things going on.
“So that also means that there are other pressures going on in their lives,” Pink continued. “Good, bad; big, small. So we want to make that as we as a college continue to exist in this city that our focus from our student life perspective, from our campus perspective, continues to evolve, continues to increase as far as how we support our students, our faculty, and our staff.”
Pink also mentioned that there is more to come on this issue, saying that “things always change.”
“That’s why I always talk about staying relevant, that’s why I always talk about staying responsive,” said Pink. “We have to continue to stay relevant to our students’ needs when it comes to their mental well-being.”
Read The Collegiate’s related mental health coverage here.