Students seek help for stress
October 5, 2006
Gretchen Link does not need a calendar to see how quickly fall semester is moving; she simply reads the expressions on UW-River Falls students’ faces.
“It’s the third week of school and students are already coming in overwhelmed,” Link said last week.
As one of three counselors with Student Health Services, Link meets with students in her office, but this year a Web site renovation allows UW-RF students to first seek help from their own homes.
New online tests, available at www.uwrf.edu/counseling, check for bipolar disorder, eating disorders, generalized anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol issues.
Although the mental health counselors treat conditions ranging from low self-esteem to suicide, the issues chosen for the Web site have a special significance at UW-RF.
The “top four” reasons students seek counseling are nearly a mirror of the screening tests.
“Stress is No.1,” Link said. “Depression and anxiety tie for second and third. Relationships are No. 4.”
About 10 percent, or around 600, UW-RF students are split between Link and counselors Jennifer Elsesser and Jennifer Herink.
Since the program went into effect, Elsesser has already seen benefits from the new screening process.
“We have had one student come in and they had their printed results,” she said.
The “printed results” are from completing a self-assessment test offered online. The confidential feature first asks for general information such as age, sex and year in school, and then progresses into questions focusing on the mental health topic.
According to the Web site, questions for the depression screening include ranking students on feelings of worthlessness, difficulty making decisions and thoughts of suicide.
The screening concerning eating disorders focuses on preoccupation with bodies, the feeling that food controls one’s life and that one gives too much time to food.
Based on the results of the screening test, students are then prompted to seek counseling if they qualify.
If they choose to seek counseling, Link said the most important part is to keep the results.
“A student has to copy it off and bring it in,” she said.
By providing the online screening, counselors can get a better understanding of a student during their first meeting.
“We want to help students cope with today’s world,” Link said. “Being in college means expectations are higher. There is greater competition and a lot more stress.”
UW-RF junior Katrina Weberg is one student who does not typically feel the pressures that can surround college life.
“I usually don’t get that stressed out,” 23-year-old Weberg said.
Although she does not use the counseling services, Weberg does think they serve a beneficial purpose.
“It’s good that it is free,” she said.
Counseling fees are built into tuition as part of a Student Health Services fee.
This system allows those who are in counseling to be seen as many times as necessary, although most students are seen “two to three times statistically” in a semester, Link said.
While counseling services are made possible through a tuition fee, this year’s Web site renovation will not cost UW-RF students a dime.
The anonymous screening process was made possible through funding from a Bringing Theory to Practice grant.
This year’s $10,000 grant is the second step of the program.
During the 2005-2006 school year, a $2,500 grant helped create two discussion sessions in fall semester based on the book. “College of the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do about It,” as well as a visit by co-author Dr. Richard Kadison, who works as the chief of mental health at Harvard University Health Services.
In addition to last year’s discussion groups and this year’s Web site renovation, a portion of the grant money has also gone to a guide for faculty and staff.
Put together by Elsesser, the guide, “Assisting Students During Emotional Distress,” will also be available on the Web site.
With all of the efforts made this year and last, Link is certain that students will benefit by “taking an hour out of very busy lives to focus on yourself” with herself, Elsesser or Herink.
“We are here as a resource to help teach life skills,” she said. “Life isn’t easy but it helps if you have a good tool kit.”