Health and Wellness counseling booked through the spring

By Matea Wasend

If you’re hoping to see a counselor at Macalester this semester, you might be out of luck. Regular counseling appointment slots were booked 10 days into the semester—”the fastest we’ve ever filled up,” according to Associate Dean of Student Services Denise Ward—and the Health and Wellness Center (HWC) has had to place many students on a waiting list despite adding an additional counselor to cope with demand. Macalester offers free time-limited counseling to students through the Health and Wellness Center (each student maxes out at 10 sessions per academic year). Though the service has seen increasing use over the last 10 years, Ward said this semester’s demand has been particularly high. Students who did not sign up for regular appointments within the first two weeks of school were placed on a waiting list after all of the counselors’ appointment slots filled up. Wait-listed students are contacted when someone cancels on a scheduled appointment that corresponds with their availability. Alternatively, students on the waiting list can try their luck with drop-in times, of which there are one or two every weekday. Ward says the waiting list is very “actively managed” and “dynamic.” “Generally students don’t go more than a week without being called and offered something,” Ward said. “Within three weeks we moved 22 people off the waiting list and onto the appointment schedule.” The HWC will probably move quickly through the waiting list, Ward said, because many students who are taking up slots right now are finishing up counseling that they began in the fall; when they reach their ten-session maximum their times will open up for wait-listed students. If students are in dire need of counseling, however, the HWC can assist with locating off-campus options. If students need immediate counseling assistance outside of HWC hours, Ward said, they should call the 24-hour Crisis Connection hotline (612-379-6363). The HWC has not noticed a particular trend in “presenting concerns” that explains this semester’s high demand for counseling. Ward instead attributed the long waiting list to the time of year and the large student body size. “It’s always a well responded-to service,” Ward said. “But spring tends to fill up faster just because everybody is in the loop; everybody has been on campus for a while, and first-years know we’re here.” Macalester has offered free counseling for more than 30 years. Ward said the increasing demand for the service in the last 10 years or so echoes a national trend. The number of students who sought help at 7-2008 to 2008-2009, according to the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors. This trend can be explained by improving attitudes towards mental health, said Student Health Promotions Team member Lauren Martinez ’12, “Mental health is getting less of a stigma,” Martinez said. “Macalester students are becoming more willing to go in search of a solution—to go to a professional.” But Macalester is seeing an increased demand for counseling for another reason, too, said Ward: the growing presence of students who come to Macalester with “complex concerns.” “Due to the support that these students have gotten early on, they’re now able to be successful in college,” Ward said. “Whereas maybe 15 years ago, they might not have had the access [to mental health services] that they currently do.” A New York Times article from 2010 says that serious mental health conditions are becoming more prevalent on college campuses around the country, thanks in large part to effective psychotropic drugs and “a greater awareness of traumas scarcely recognized a generation ago.” But the most commonly presented concerns among Macalester students, Ward said, are “issues around anxiety, stress and depression.” The HWC has created programming directed at these concerns in recent years, like its lunchtime series entitled “Manage Stress Mindfully” which “offers a better way to manage stress and restore balance to your life.” So far, Martinez said, the program hasn’t seen great attendance.