Mental Health Crisis on CUA Campus Escalates

Courtesy of CUA Counseling Center

Photo: CUA Counseling Center

By Jessica Fetrow

The Catholic University of America’s Counseling Center has come under fire recently after announcing earlier in the semester through their website that they would no longer be scheduling new intakes.

“Because of unusually high demand for services and a potentially longer than usual wait time between intake appointments and assignment to weekly therapy appointments, we are not scheduling new intakes for the rest of the Spring 2019 semester,” said the Counseling Center on its website. “Students who would like to meet with a counselor are encouraged to come in for walk-in sessions up to once per week as needed (no appointment necessary) between now and the end of the semester.”

The center has been facing heavy criticism from members of the Catholic University community, especially students, after this announcement, especially in light of next week’s final exams.

“The current state of the Counseling Center is abysmal,” said sophomore world politics and cultural anthropology major Regina Brennan. “They are taking walk-ins, so if you feel especially desperate, then you will be able to come in and talk to someone as you go, but having regular therapy — which most people need and expect — is not possible. It is honestly a violation of the contract that I agreed to when I placed my deposit down to attend CUA. It is malicious negligence to ignore the mental health crisis on CUA’s campus.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), over 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities and 45% have felt hopeless. Further, 31% of students have felt so depressed in the past year that they had difficulty functioning, and moreover, 50% of students attributed overwhelming anxiety to finding it hard to succeed academically.

The Counseling Center attributes the recent lack of availability for weekly sessions to a higher demand for weekly-appointments in recent years.

“Looking at the number of students with whom we have any kind of appointment, for years we have averaged seeing about 10 to 11% of the full-time student body during any given year,” said Monroe Rayburn, Director of the Counseling Center. “Then about four years ago, we started seeing slow but steady increases in the percentage of the full-time student body we were seeing, going from 12% four years ago to 14% the next year, and then holding steady at 15% for the two years after that. This year we are on pace to see 15% or more of the student body as well.”

According to Rayburn, in addition to the increasing quantity of students seeking help through the Counseling Center, another factor in the lack of availability is due to more students requiring counseling for longer, which has been a nationwide trend in recent years.

“Not only are more people coming in, but they are needing to stay for more sessions before they get better,” Rayburn said.

Rayburn, who has served as Director of CUA’s Counseling Center since 2003 and has worked for the center since 1998, said that the discontinuation of new intakes for weekly sessions was to be realistic about the chances of new students on the waitlist getting assigned to a therapist before the end of the semester.

“I believe that it was better to let people seeking services for the first time after spring break to know that they could have access to counseling services through weekly walk-in appointments, rather than being placed on a waitlist and possibly not getting an assignment for weekly therapy,” said Rayburn. “I think it’s important to emphasize that we have maintained uninterrupted access to counseling services for new clients by lifting the two walk-in appointment per semester limit for the rest of this semester.”

The Counseling Center, which has 9 full-time therapists, 18 part-time therapists, and a psychiatric nurse practitioner on staff, is making efforts to prevent an incident like this from happening again in the future. Further, the Counseling Center is continuing to host events to assist the Catholic University community during this stressful time of the year, and encourages students to attend one of the several group therapy sessions offered at the center.

“We as a staff here at the Counseling Center have been brainstorming about solutions to the challenge of keeping up with demand, and we plan to continue into the summer to try to think of creative ways to address the issue,” Rayburn said.

The Counseling Center anticipates resuming new intakes after exam week in early May.

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