Editorial: Reducing Wait Times at the Counseling Center
Mental health is a constant topic of concern across college campuses nationwide. With each passing day, we hear about more students battling depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety; the list goes on and on. As clear as the problem is nationwide, it might not be as obvious closer to home.
Not everyone has had a close, personal experience with someone, be it themself, a friend, or a family-member, struggling with a mental health concern. However, the Skidmore Counseling Center reported that in “2014-2015, over 500 individual students sought help at the Counseling Center.” This statistic proves that a good portion of our student body is seeking guidance from professionals on this campus. But, 500 individual students greatly outweighs the four counselors that are available at the Counseling Center for up to just eight free sessions before each student is advised to seek counseling elsewhere. Although Dr. Julia Routbort, Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Health and Wellness, notes that “the staff to student ratio does meet (and actually exceeds) national accreditation standards,” she believes that “we are currently understaffed in comparison to the needs and expectations of our campus. Our staffing has not kept pace with the increase in demand for services. Last year, we saw 174 students in the first four weeks of the semester and this year, we’ve had 197 [students] seek services.” This increase of students seeking counseling has pushed the wait time for an appointment to six business days.
So the Editorial Board asks, why is there such limited accessibility to counseling on campus, and is there a way for that be fixed?
The board does not wish to downplay the hard work and success of the counselors at Skidmore, but we do wonder, is Skidmore content with its Counseling Center’s current reputation, its low ratio of counselors to students, and its six-day waiting period? We believe that Skidmore should take a second look at its counseling center. Perhaps it is time to emphasize and prioritize the need for more counselors. Other nearby schools of a similar size and caliber to ours, such as Bard and Union, have upwards of ten counselors, while we have only four full-time staff members. It is obvious that the lack of counselors perpetuates the issue of a longer waiting period. We shouldn’t have to make students put in lots of effort in order to gain access to counseling. The school should be comforting students, and providing accessibility for its services as much as possible. Navigating the process of finding an available appointment, or figuring out how and where to seek help elsewhere, should not be the cause of more stress for students.
We understand that mental illness can come in a variety of forms and that Skidmore does not have the resources to be of assistance in every situation. Emergency situations most certainly constitute a need for immediate assistance, and this is available by calling the 24/7 therapist on call or by calling Campus Safety for EMS attention. However, for most issues, students should be able to seek counseling whenever they need it, without worrying about a long wait period. Often, students have pressing issues that need to be addressed the same day. We’re at a point where that isn’t a possibility, and Skidmore needs to address that issue. Dr. Julia Routbort and Dr. Andrew Demaree, Director of the Counseling Center, both mentioned how “the Counseling Center was able to access interim funding (just assigned to us about a month ago) to hire a temporary part-time clinician for this year. The CC is actively looking to hire someone on a temporary basis for this academic year (position is posted/advertised and we are interviewing people now) and we very much hope to be able to hire someone this semester to work an additional 2-3 days per week.” It’s definitely a good sign that they’re already looking to hire somebody, even if only temporary, and only for 2-3 days per week.
As it is now, the Counseling Center’s mode of operations obviously needs to be tweaked. We shouldn’t be content with saying that at a six-day waiting period for appointments, the Counseling Center is at its peak effectiveness. Not every urgent need to receive counseling is a situation where a student is potentially harmful to themselves or other students, which would count as an emergency and likely receive immediate attention. There are many other pressing issues that are important to students, and may need to be addressed on a same-day basis but are being each deprioritized. We need to allow students the opportunity to talk to a professional whenever they need. Dr. Routbort says, “the Counseling Center’s mission is to be the first stop on campus for students seeking mental health care and support.” So, Skidmore needs to make sure that they do everything in their power to permanently resolve their current staffing and wait issues, so that students can feel comfortable and safe, both within themselves and their community.