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Number of visitors to UI counseling service stagnant

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | SEPTEMBER 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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While the number of visitors to the University Counseling Service has remained level over the last few years, funding for the program has grown slightly, and officials said they’re doing more to serve students.

Since the 2007-08 school year, the number of students visiting the counseling service each year has only grown by around 20 students.

In addition to hiring a new staff member two years ago, the counseling service has introduced initial appointment slots throughout the week to be able to see students requesting counseling more often and at a faster pace.

“We strive to see students who request counseling the same day or following day of the request,” said Sam Cochran, the program’s director. “Sometimes this takes longer but hopefully, not too much longer.”

The counseling service has been allocated slightly more than $1 million this year, an increase of 1.5 percent over last year. The service is funded by the University of Iowa’s General Education Fund, and it hasn’t been affected by recent cuts in funding because it is related to student health and safety — a priority for the Office of Student Life.

Michael O’Hara, a UI professor of psychology, says that while steady demand for the counseling services could mean that there is a drop in stigma attached to seeking such counseling along with increase in support for students, it could also mean an increase in rates of students with mental-health problems, which is alarming. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the importance of counseling.

“These problems that students have can diminish their social and academic life, and in that respect, it is good to know that more students are seeking mental-health services,” he said.      

The largest number of the counseling-service users come for what staff call “phase of life” problems, including academic issues, identity issues, and relationship problems. There are also a substantial number who seek help for anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. And 10 percent of the patients last year were seeking help for substance abuse.

A study presented at the annual conference of American Psychology Association in 2010 indicates an increase in number of students with moderate to severe depression from 34 percent in August 1997 to 41 percent in September 2009 at a mid-sized private university.

UI junior Patrick Kelleher, who approached the counseling service for anxiety-related problems, believes the service is a great asset for the university, especially because the service is free for students.

“At first, I was a little apprehensive of the whole idea of getting counseling, but everyone there was really warm and hospitable,” he said. “You’d be surprised to know how much anxiety you can relieve just by talking to someone.”

The counseling service doesn’t, however, prescribe medicine to students; instead, it refers students needing prescriptions to Student Health.

O’Hara noted that professionals need to use care with prescription medicines.

“We have to be careful [with prescription medicines],” he said. “It isn’t a best first choice, especially if situation can be solved with psychotherapy. But many people today want quick fixes and medicines do help.”

He noted the role of big pharmaceutical companies in increasing the use of psychotropic medicines via advertisements mostly on TV.


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