Penn State students need a mental health lifeline.
The university just needs to figure out how to get them what they need.
The need for increased assistance has been recognized all year. The Class of 2016 made its gift to the university $200,000 for Counseling and Psychological Services. Last week, the Penn State Alumni Association agreed to match the gift. Senior Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Rod Kirsch and wife Michelle, associate dean of student affairs, gave $50,000 for an embedded counselor program, putting help in the dorms.
But they still need more.
16 percent increase in non-suicidal self-injury, like cutting
Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims told the university trustees committee on academic affairs and student life on Thursday that there is a problem with students hurting themselves.
Sims said that CAPS is seeing more students that ever. Services are up 19 percent, and appointments are up 9 percent. About 4,000 students had contact with CAPS in the current school year.
Non-suicidal self-injury, like cutting, is up 16 percent. Suicidal ideation has about doubled.
And then there are the students who make an attempt, or like an off-campus sophomore last week, who succeed.
It is not a Penn State problem, he said. It’s a problem at universities all over the country.
“Everyone is talking about the issue,” said Sims.
Penn State, however, is working on it, both through research and through action.
The university is the home of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, “a multidisciplinary, member-driven, practice research network that is focused on providing accurate and up-to-date information on the mental health of today’s college students,” which is pulling together information from 350 college counseling centers on the topic.
“We are the repository of the data,” Sims said.
But still, there is the question of what to do for Penn State students with problems.
“I don’t think we will resolve that question with one answer,” Sims said.
There is the embedded counselor program, and more money for CAPS, but there is more.
“Clearly outreach needs to be done,” said trustee Alice Pope.
4,000 students who had contact with CAPS this school year
Sims agreed, saying that more staff and faculty were being made aware of the issues. Bystander intervention is another avenue.
“We want peers to recognize when their friends are in need,” he said.
But there is also the problem of logistics. University Park has more than 46,000 students on campus. It has just one and a half psychiatrists to serve their needs, Sims said.
“We need to direct our energy towards early intervention and counseling,” Pope said.
She encouraged others to augment the Class of 2016 gift.
Students, who may sometimes bristle at fees, are actually proposing one. Terry Ford, the new president of the University Park Undergraduate Association, spoke of having a fee directed to support CAPS, at least until the university can find another alternative.
But one factor shows that sometimes, it isn’t enough to have the services available.
The recent suicide, Sims said, had never reached out for help.