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ND, SMC offer resources for mental well-being

and | Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More than 25 percent of American college students were treated for a mental health condition in 2012, according to the American College Health Association. The 2010 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors reported counseling centers saw an increase in mental health issues on campuses.

In an effort to respond to these trends and meet the needs of all students, both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s provide resources for students experiencing mental illness.

Dr. Bill Stackman, associate vice president for Student Affairs at Notre Dame, said the University’s goal is to provide “holistic care” that incorporates mental health issues into a larger conversation on well-being, including physical health and academic success.

“Mental health and emotional well-being: it’s not a separate piece,” Stackman said. “It’s not like we’ll take care of the student over here, and then we’ll think of the emotional piece over here. It’s all integrated … [and] that emotional piece is often part of the conversation as we’re looking on how to support the student.”

The University Counseling Center (UCC) is a key piece of the University’s support network, director Susan Steibe-Pasalich said. It provides free individual and group counseling, crisis services and self-help guides to undergraduate and graduate students and interested faculty and staff.

Steibe-Pasalich said approximately 1,400 of the University’s 12,000 students used the UCC in the past year, an increase of almost 400 students over the past five years. She attributed the increase both to increased awareness of and need for campus counseling services.

Students are more comfortable with counseling,” Steibe-Pasalich said. “There isn’t that stigma that there used to be 10 years ago. Many students have already been in counseling when they come to college, so they have exposure to it. They feel comfortable with it.

“Also, there are some students who maybe a decade ago wouldn’t have been able to come to college [but] because they had in high school some really good interventions, some really good diagnoses and medications, [they] are able to attend college, and they need support to be able to maintain that.”

In response to the increased demand, Steibe-Pasalich said the counseling center expanded its services to include the Inner Resource Room, a room containing relaxation tools such as massage chairs and light therapy; Let’s Talk, weekly consultations about mental health issues open to all students; and programs and events with other campus organizations, such as the Gender Relations Center, Campus Ministry and Multicultural Student Programs and Services.

She said the UCC also shifted its individual counseling services, which most counseling center clients use, to a brief therapy model, which provides temporary counseling and refers students to off-campus counselors and provides taxi vouchers if they need ongoing care.

Steibe-Pasalich said the UCC also strives become more integrated with other services in St. Liam Hall, such as University Health Services and the newly-created McDonald Center for Student Well-Being.

We are looking to the whole health and wellness units,” she said. “All the departments in [St. Liam] are hoping to be more collaborative so that there is a continuity of care that would be seamless, so that wherever a student started out in this building, they would get the right place in an easy way. We’re looking at what are obstacles to that right now, nd how might we better serve the students in terms of the ease of that, so we’re examining that this year.”

Steibe-Pasalich said the counseling center was ranked number one in 2013 on a comparison of National Senior Exit Surveys and consistently garnered positive feedback in student surveys.

Junior Maggie Skoch, president of Notre Dame’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said her own experience with the University’s mental health resources began with a visit to her resident assistant, who directed her to the counseling center.

“The residence hall life here is much better than most schools at facilitating help for students who are struggling with not just mental health issues but any sort of issue, because it’s much more of a community with a good, trained staff that you sort of have a hierarchy to go to,” Skoch said. “… I think that’s very conducive to helping people who are struggling.”

Skoch said the counseling center is a “great resource” for students.

“They’re a wonderful, wonderful resource, especially in a nation where mental health coverage can be iffy and sketchy and difficult in terms of cost and availability,” she said. “This is basically free, and very excellent trained professionals at the snap of a finger. In that realm, they do a great job.”

Steibe-Pasalich said the counseling center is heavily involved in another campus mental health resource, the CARE team, a group of individuals from various University organizations, including UCC, NDSP, Graduate Services and the Office of Community Standards.

Stackman, the director of the CARE team, said concerned students, faculty, parents or hall staff refer students to the team if they notice a problem with that student’s well-being, including mental illness.

Erica Kelsey, a case manager for the CARE team, said the team directs students experiencing mental health issues to the appropriate resources.

“We’re sort of guiding students to resources they need,” Kelsey said. “So if we meet with them and it seems like they definitely need counseling services but haven’t yet been connected, then we’ll provide those referrals and then also following up with students as they go through the semester to see if are these referrals we set in place working for you, if there is anything else we can do to help.”

Skoch said NAMI hopes to host or co-host more events in addition to Irish State of Mind and become more involved in student and administrative discussions on mental health issues. She said she also hopes to see more awareness of mental health issues and the resources to combat them in the future, as well as an effort to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness.

“[There is] the classic, Notre-Dame-students-are-perfect-and-have-no-problems paradigm, which is ridiculous, and students are very aware that that mindset exists,” Skoch said. “This isn’t necessarily something that a policy would change, but it’s something to work on. Culture shift is another gap that we as a university could be emphasizing more.”

Saint Mary’s senior Chloe Deranek is a social concerns member of Support a Belle, Love a Belle (SABLAB), the Saint Mary’s adaptation of Mental Illness Awareness week.

“[SABLAB] is a week out of the year where Saint Mary’s comes together to bring awareness to Mental Health, end stigma and encourage students to take care of themselves,” Deranek said.

Deranek said SABLAB aims to raise awareness about mental health issues that college students experience on a daily basis.

Deranek said resources available on campus include Women’s Health, where counselors are available by appointment, and the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO), which specifically handles issues related to sexual violence.

She said Saint Mary’s students can also go to the counseling center at Notre Dame for help.

“All of these sources work together to get students the help that they need,” Deranek said. “These places are all great starting points to come up with a plan to figure out what each individual needs.”

Campus Ministry acts as another resource for students, and director of Campus Ministry Judith Fean said her office works with other departments if additional support or healing is appropriate.

“All members of Campus Ministry assist students by being a place to share their story, listen compassionately and pray with and for those who are struggling,” Fean said.

She said Campus Ministry provides several different Masses and prayer services throughout the year, a candlelight vigil for those impacted by sexual violence, a prayer service for hope and healing and Taize Prayer.

Fean said the Eucharist is offered everyday on campus at least once, which provides students with an opportunity for spiritual support.

“It invites students to gather with their joys, sorrows and hopes to celebrate with the Body of Christ, God’s compassionate love, healing and mercy,” she said. “Also, all campus ministers in the department offer spiritual guidance as they share their story, their fears and anxieties.

Sophomore Clare O’Malley said she sought treatment for her depression by speaking with counselors at Women’s Health once a week.

She said the counselors are available to those feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or simply in need of someone to talk to.

“They will listen to you when you just need to talk and provide the positive voices to trump any negative ones in your mind,” she said.

Additional resources include Project HEAL, a new organization on campus this year, and simply talking to a Resident Advisor, sophomore SABLAB committee member Elizabeth Murray said.

“These resources are important because girls struggling need to know there is always someone on campus to confide in,” Murray said. “The people working in these offices are trained and have our health in their best interest.”

Anyone struggling with mental health issues should contact:

Womens Health at SMC: 50 Holy Cross Hall, 574-284-4805, [email protected]

University Counseling Center, Notre Dame: Saint Liam Hall, 574-631-7336

Belles Against Violence Organization at SMC (BAVO): 33 Holy Cross Hall

National Hotlines: Suicide: 1-800-TALK, www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines


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Emily McConville is a news writer and photographer for the Observer. She is a senior studying history and Italian with a minor in journalism. She is from Louisville, KY and lives off-campus.

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