As students return to Penn State, they face challenges on academic and social fronts that can be exaggerated if a new student is facing the first-time experience of living independently or a seasoned student is facing graduation and the tests of the real world.
In the early weeks of school, there are numerous adjustment issues, Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services Director Dennis Heitzmann said. Those new to campus are facing a new environment without the usual supports from home, and even those who are familiar with campus life are hit with a variety of new challenges.
“This can be a very stimulating and exciting time, but it can be challenging and take quite a bit of energy,” Heitzmann said.
For this reason, CAPS reaches out to students as early as possible. Students and parents are made aware during the orientation process that counseling is available, he said.
“It’s not unusual to be contacted by parents prior to a student getting here,” he said. “We see a fairly sustained stream of students all the way through spring.”
The issues, he said, range from mild, circumstantial issues through deeply entrenched conditions.
“A recent infusion of funds allowed us to hire five more staff members for this semester.”
A satellite center is being developed on Calder Way, he said, as an addition to the existing student center. Students would still report to the health center on campus for initial consultation but could receive treatment at the downtown location.
CAPS is a brief treatment center, he said, which is adequate for most students. If a student’s needs are greater than can be handled, the staff can make a referral to a local provider.
Heitzmann said troubled students should reach out to qualified professionals to address their needs.
“If an individual was in need of professional services, it would not be a good thing to believe that an online relationship or a chat room is adequate to meet their needs.”
He didn’t dismiss the concept of online support entirely, saying students who might not otherwise find support may find help online.
“For some, it removes them from the isolation, which is a good thing. But it’s often not sufficient to deal with serious issues that will arise.”
Brenda Fry, co-chairwoman of the central Pennsylvania board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said social media has the power to open dialogue or push others away.
“It depends on the individual and the circumstances,” she said. “You read about bullying by social media, but there are also those that reach out that way. It’s probably an even split.”
Fry said the recent death of actor Robin Williams provides a good opportunity to create dialogue with younger individuals who think money buys happiness and success resolves concerns and issues.
“If there was a positive to a tragedy like that,” she said, “it gives you the talking point to open discussion.”
Heitzmann said CAPS’s doors are always open, and students are encouraged to visit early.
“Our staff will work tirelessly through the academic year to make our students as best as they can be,” he said. “No student will ever be trouble-free, but they can be resilient in the face of problems.”
Students suffering from depression or other issues can call Centre County Crisis Intervention at 800-643-5432 or visit the Mount Nittany Medical Center emergency room or The Meadows Psychiatric Center at any time.