NEW ALBANY — Students at Indiana University may go the school to improve their minds, but they also can improve their mental health, too.
Last school year, 295 students visited the Indiana University Southeast Personal Counseling Center a combined 2,293 times. The number is smaller than what director Michael Day would estimate is needed — he guesses, based on national statistics, around 1,000 students on campus would benefit from the services — but has increased each year recently.
The most common issue students bring to the center is stress and anxiety at a “debilitating level,” according to Day. After that, mood disorders or conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder, relationship issues and a history of trauma are among the main reasons students visit the center.
The key to making sure students get the help they need is to involve the campus community and change the dialogue around mental health, Day said.
“Most people put off mental healthcare even longer than they put off physical healthcare – because of the stigma,” Day said.
To battle that, Day started suicide prevention week five years ago. This year, events included the non-competitive “Out of the Darkness Campus Walk” Saturday, which raised more than $5,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and “Send Silence Packing” Monday, an event that brought the backpacks of 250 students who died by suicide to the campus' McCullough Plaza.
Since the program first started, Day says he's noticed the atmosphere on campus changing.
“We set a tone for our students. We say 'It's OK to talk about this' and they are more open to that. If we ignore it, they don't know where to go and they don't know [the center is] safe,” he said. “The attendance, participation in events has increased every year. More and more people are coming to therapy. Many come and reference the fact they heard about us at this event, that event. More and more faculty want to be involved and are getting more comfortable talking about the topic as well.”
The faculty goes through training to identify students in need, and pamphlets and brochures are distributed throughout the campus to inform about the counseling center so the conversation isn't limited to Suicide Prevention Week.
The Personal Counseling Center relies on the campus community to keep an eye out for those who are in need of help and aren't aware. Faculty, staff and other students are able to refer a student to the center by calling, emailing or submitting information online. If a student is referred to the center, a panel discusses ways to best help them. Someone also meets with the student, and if they are determined to be suicidal, they work together to get them into a local hospital.
If the student is not willing but needs the help, the center work with the hospital to make sure the student makes it where they need to go, Day said. Students also can be referred elsewhere if their needs are above what the center offers; for example, there is no psychiatrist on staff.
On campus, two full-time staff and eight graduate students run the center. Outside of campus, Day said they have partnerships with Wellstone Regional Hospital, Clark Memorial Hospital, KentuckyOne Health Our Lady of Peace and The Brook Hospital.
One point Day emphasized is the privacy of the counseling center and its services.
“All records are kept separate from the university. It is not on academic record, [it's] a personal record. Unlike a high school, all our students are adults and even if we hospitalize, the university does not have the right or the desire to know that information,” Day said.