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UCC provides counseling services to students

| Thursday, October 8, 2015

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of a five-day series discussing mental health at Notre Dame in recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week.

During the 2008-2009 academic year, the University Counseling Center (UCC) reported 1,015 initial intakes of students seeking counseling services. By the 2013-2014 academic year, that number had risen to 1,409.

And according to director of the UCC Susan Steibe-Pasalich, it increased again by an additional 4 percent between the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years.

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Dr. Peter Barnes, a staff psychologist at the UCC, said the center has had to make certain adjustments to accommodate the growing demand for its services.

“Our counseling center, as well as counseling centers across the nation, have seen an increase in severity of problems over the past couple of decades, as well as the overall demand of services, and so it’s a challenge to meet all the needs for all the students,” Barnes said. “ … Over the years, we have moved to more of a short-term model of counseling in order to accommodate the increasing demands.

“It used to be 15 years ago or so that the demand was just far less, and so we had much fewer limitations on what we could provide any one student. However, for a large majority of students, short-term counseling is going to meet their needs.”

Steibe-Pasalich said over the past year, the center has focused on improving its after-hours urgent crisis telephone service and has contracted with Indiana Paging Network, an outside answering service.

“Through this service, after-hours calls are answered immediately by a live operator, who then dispatches the call to the on-call UCC counselor,” Steibe-Pasalich said in an email. “We believe this personal contact is an improvement over the past procedure which required that the caller listen to instructions and leave a voice mail message.”

Currently, she said, the UCC is working to update its website and “to continue to enhance after-hours services.”

Although more and more students are requesting counseling from the UCC, Steibe-Pasalich said many of the problems they report – including anxiety, depression, family concerns, interpersonal and romantic relationships and academic distress – remain the same.

Currently, the process for a student seeking help is to schedule an appointment with a licensed professional over the phone or, in the case of a crisis, simply to walk in to the UCC offices, located on the third floor of Saint Liam’s. After filling out paperwork regarding general symptoms and complaints, a student then meets with a counselor, who makes recommendations to a disposition team on the student’s treatment, Barnes said.

“We see a wide range of issues, from just adjustment to being here at Notre Dame, academic stress and stress management – all the way to more severe issues like [suicide],” he said. “Our counseling center, like other counseling centers across the nation, have seen an increase in severity of problems over the past couple of decades, as well as an increase in the overall demand for services.”

For students who need longer term or more specialized care, Barnes said, the UCC refers them to a specialist in the South Bend community. However, he said the center has also worked in recent years to expand its psychiatric services and now has a part-time psychiatrist on staff.

Indeed, director of University Health Services Sharon McMullen said Health Services and the UCC collaborated last year “to place a UCC psychiatric provider at UHS for a few hours each week.”

“This helped us to better meet the needs of students who are prescribed psychotropic medications but who are not in therapy at UCC,” she said in an email. “This program was well-received and highly-utilized by students so we expanded it in 2015-2016.”

McMullen also said Health Services regularly partners with the UCC and the newly created McDonald Center for Student Well-Being on issues regarding mental health and advises them “from the perspective of the campus health care provider.”

“Our shared goal is to help to build a healthy campus environment in which all of our students flourish,” McMullen said.

Beyond the support the UCC has received from Health Services, Barnes said the Division of Student Affairs has also worked to provide the UCC resources to better assist the growing numbers of students who are reporting mental health problems.

“We see a quarter of all Notre Dame students at some point during their time at Notre Dame, and we could probably see a lot more than that,” he said. “What we’re learning is that being pretty stressed out and overwhelmed is becoming more and more normal, unfortunately.

“ … When students are comparing their private struggles to other students’ social media posts, nobody really measures up. College can be very stressful. But when peers conceal their difficulties and only show their positive sides, students can easily get the misperception that they are alone in their struggles. This inaccurate social comparison tends to exacerbate their problems.””

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