Shelby* appears to be the model college student. She gets good grades, joined a sorority and is actively involved in the school and community. She also attended Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the beginning of her freshman year at Northwestern University.
While seeking psychological help may have labeled Shelby atypical ten years ago, she is no longer in the minority. Nine percent of all college students sought counseling in the year 2005, according to a survey conducted by the University of Pittsburgh`s Robert Gallagher.
Most students arrived at college with their issues, rather than developing them on campus, according to Hara Marano in Psychology Today.
Shelby decided to attend CAPS because she never received adequate therapy for binge eating habits that came as a result of being sexually molested by her cousin from the ages of 8 to 12.
I just really wanted to do something about it, " Shelby said. I wanted to make the most of this opportunity here, and these two things from the past were a hindrance on my ability to do really well. "
Full-time students at Northwestern can receive up to 12 free sessions from CAPS. However, Northwestern is just one of many schools to offer psychiatric services on campus. About 59 percent of schools provide similar services, Gallagher reported.
The demand for counseling on campuses has steadily increased. Northwestern alone reported a 10 to 12 percent increase in demand from the last school year.
This probably is the result of the past 20 years of the culture, " said Dr. Wei-Jen Huang, Assistant Director for Community Relations for CAPS at Northwestern. Society is becoming more and more stress producing. People really want to do well. "
He said perfectionism plays an especially large role at more competitive universities. We base a lot of our self worth in how well we do. They criticize themselves without mercy. "
Shelby said she feels pressures on students keep growing.
I know I feel pressure all the time to do well, and it`s not pressure directly from anywhere like my parents or an adviser, " Shelby said. I feel like if I don`t do well here, I won`t be able to get a job later on. "
Students who formerly could not attend college due to psychological issues now can because of advancements in medicine and psychotherapy.
Students can now make it in universities with proper support, " Huang said.
The level of severity for psychological disorders such as suicidal thoughts and eating disorders increased as well. In fact, 96 percent of counseling center directors said the increase of students with more serious problems has been causing concern in their centers.
People are coming in with a huge array of increasingly complex emotional issues, " Fowzia Khan, staff psychologist at DePaul University said.
Students ranked depression as their fourth most common health problem right after back pain, allergies and sinus infections, according to the National College Health Assessment.
We have a number of cases in which physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse are really a part of the experience of students, " Khan said. People are finally speaking up and talking about their suffering. "
The increase cannot solely be placed on more emotional problems. The stigma attached to attending counseling, though still present, became less visible in recent years.
Dean Malec, a 21-year-old student from Cleveland, said he felt students could approach CAPS for less life threatening issues as well.
It`s not anything to be afraid of, " Malec said. You won`t be labeled as a crazy student. I know it`s helped me a lot. "
Malec visited Northwestern`s CAPS his sophomore year when experiencing pressure to declare a major. Malec eventually declared psychology as his major. He said this decision was indirectly " influenced by his experience at CAPS.
Hopefully, I can use those techniques to help others feel better, " Malec said.
Katie Doetsch, 19, said her teachers and student advisers reduce stigma by encouraging students at DePaul to seek help if they need it.
I haven`t personally gone, " the Huntley, IL native said. If you`re having problems, they don`t want you to be ashamed about it. "
Most people still keep their visits to counseling secret, which means the stigma has not completely gone away. Shelby said that while she felt she could talk to her roommate and close friends about her visits, her counseling was still not something she wanted the general public to know.
Some say only weak and crazy people go to CAPS. That kind of stigma is still around, " Huang said. We have so many people with a high IQ, but we need to promote emotional intelligence as well. "
The increase in demand for counselors has caused some financial pressures.
We try to be creative with our limited resources, " Huang said. The university has been very supportive, but their mission is not to make this a community mental health center. "
Northwestern and DePaul dealt with constraints by scheduling group sessions, referring students to outside services and having waitlists for less urgent problems. Yet, Huang and Khan said they are glad students are taking advantage of their services.
More people in this age range are sort of saying, "I need to really talk to someone because I have a lot going on.` " Khan said. It`s important that we`re here because emotional issues can hamper academic success. "
Without CAPS` existence, we would have lost quite a few lives, " Huang said.
Shelby said she no longer needs to attend CAPS and is much more conscious of her emotional health.
There`s no harm in doing it, " she said. It`s the only four years of your life where you`ll have free access to counseling. So why not give it a shot? At least for me, it was a very beneficial experience. "
*Name changed to protect the privacy of student.
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