Crisis visits see sharp increase

Photo Illustration by Matt Hellman and Jed Dean

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

The Baylor Health Services Counseling Center saw a 64 percent increase in crisis appointments for fall 2010 compared with fall 2009.

Crisis appointments serve students who are experiencing emotional and/or psychological distress or who have recently experienced trauma. This increase comes after a more than a 100 percent increase in crisis appointments between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.

Dr. James Marsh, director of counseling services, said the numbers of crisis appointments have been increasing across the nation. Marsh said Baylor’s increase probably stems from several causes, including successful outreach programming by the university, an increase in the total number of students on campus, changing demographics of the student population and a more open attitude concerning counseling among students.

Dr. Martha Lou Scott, associate vice president for student life, said that issues such as border violence between Texas and Mexico, having a loved one in the military or the financial upheaval that the nation has been facing have probably contributed to students’ stress and their need for counseling services.

“The issues of the world don’t escape students just because they happen to be going to class in Waco, Texas,” Scott said. “I wouldn’t say that there is a correlation that exists number for number, but I would say that those issues along with the other issues have made a difference. I think it’s extraordinarily difficult to pull one thing out of the hat and say this is what caused somebody the stress. Most of us can deal with stress; there is that breaking point, though, where we need more help to deal with what we’re dealing with.”

Although she regrets the fact that students are facing crisis, Scott said she is glad that they are reaching out to the counseling center for help.

“I hate that students are in crisis; I regret that very, very much,” Scott said. “The fact that they’re reaching out to get assistance — that’s fantastic. The counseling center’s there to help reduce the barriers that exist for students so that they can be successful in class. Above all else, they want students to be successful.”

Marsh said he also sees both positive and negative aspects to the increase in crisis appointments.

“I think that the good part is that students are more willing to seek help,” Marsh said. “They feel more comfortable talking about mental health and coming and taking care of their own mental health in maybe the same way that they would their own physical health ­— they see it as just as important.”

Marsh is concerned, however, with the high numbers of crisis appointments and what that says about the amount of stress the current generation experiences.

“A lot of people have chimed in on this and so there’s all sorts of angles about it from parenting practices of the last generation to a genuinely a large cohort of students in a genuinely competitive world and so it’s true, there is more stress, it is more stressful. That sense is real,” Marsh said. “It does concern me that we have these trends across [the nation], not just at Baylor. Pick your school and it’s going to be the same. There’s just a lot of pressure.”

The increase in crisis appointments has also placed some strains on the staff at the counseling center, despite making changes in the center’s schedule to provide “crisis hours” and creating a triage system, but the staff members love what they do and are committed to helping every student who is in a crisis, Marsh said.

“We’ve made a few changes to try to shift our scheduling,” Marsh said, “But at the end of the day it does present some challenges to our staff in terms of meeting the needs of students in that high volume, but we push through it.”

If the increases in crisis appointments continue, more changes may be needed in the counseling center’s schedule, and the center will continue to seek additional support, but students in crisis will not be turned away, Marsh said.

He said students are also encouraged to take advantage of the counseling center’s therapy groups and M&M hour, which can help them to address problems before they reach a crisis point.

The M&M hour, short for meditation and mindfulness, provides students with a broad range of meditation and relaxation approaches. The M&M hour meets at 4 p.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday. Students do not need to make an appointment and there are no commitment fees attached to the hour.

“We’re expanding some of the things we do to help the students. Our group programs are one of the best ways to do that and the M&M Hour, our meditation and mindfulness stress clinics — we just encourage students to take advantage of those because they are helpful. Research has shown that these things are helpful,” Marsh said. “I just think there’s a lot of things students can do before things hit a crisis point, and so these are some of the things that they can take advantage of.”

Students who need to speak with someone in the counseling center can call 254-710-2467.