Lauderdale expands mental health programs, aims to normalize counseling services

Lauderdale Center for Health & Counseling has begun its initiative to offer increased group therapy sessions. Lauderdale hopes by offering these sessions that mental health counseling will be less stigmatized in the future. (Ash Dean/Photo Editor)

Lauderdale Health & Counseling is instituting multiple initiatives geared toward students’ mental health and treatment. The programs began on Monday Feb. 20 and will continue throughout the semester.

The first of the initiatives is a series of weekly group therapy sessions between counselors and students, while the other program establishes times during the week where students can meet with Lauderdale counselors without a prior appointment, according to emails sent out to the college community by Administrative Director for Student Health and Counseling Dr. Erin Halligan-Avery. 

There are seven group therapy sessions throughout the week and walk-in consultations with counselors each day from Monday-Friday. 

Halligan-Avery said that the additional three new counselors to Lauderdale’s staff have allowed for these increased options. 

“The student health and counseling fee that all full-time students pay is what was able to cover the three new positions in our health and counseling center,” she said. “As a result of being able to hire new staff, we took a look at our current model of providing therapy to students. With the addition of new staff, we feel like we can really improve upon the services that we were previously able to offer.”

These initiatives come along with a nationwide increase in students struggling with mental health issues and seeking out mental health care. According to figures from the American College Health Association offered by School of Business Internship Director and lecturer Robert Boyd, in 2008 49.1 percent of students reported feeling anxiety over the past 12 months, whereas 6.4 percent seriously considered suicide. 

These figures have increased over the past couple years and as of 2015, 57.7 percent of students reported anxiety over the past year and 9.6 percent seriously considered suicide. An estimated 86-87 percent of students cited academic stress as their primary concern in a recent survey on campus, according to Halligan-Avery. 

“We’re really trying to help students normalize the fact that support for mental health counseling should just be a normal part of their everyday experience,” Halligan-Avery said. “My hope is that by getting more into the community and opening up awareness about mental health, that more people will become interested in mental health initiatives … and will join efforts together to support students.” 

Professor of psychology Jennifer Katz spoke about the value she saw in the programs as a specialist in clinical psychology. 

“Across the different types of groups, there’s a chance for people to get support and different perspectives from others, maybe even from people who had similar types of experiences or concerns,” she said. “Group-based therapy and support can be very powerful for individuals who are looking for new ways of thinking about what they’re coping with.” 

While he expressed general approval of the new programs from Lauderdale, Boyd said that there were areas where mental health care could be improved. 

“I think that a strong referral process is important to know how to get people into the right program as well as the ability to see people when there’s a need,” he said. “I think being able to provide an evaluation almost on a walk-in basis would be best, but that’s probably a resource issue where the school doesn’t have enough money.”

Halligan-Avery spoke about her hopes for improvement in other services offered by Health & Counseling. 

“I’m hoping that people are patient with us as we sort of come underway and figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “We want students to know that we hear what you’re saying and we are doing our absolute best to make the changes that are really needed on our campus.”

Assistant news editor Zainab Tahir contributed to writing this article.