The number of students seeking counseling services at the University of Rhode Island has been on the rise in recent years. Counseling rates have increased from around 800 students per academic year in 2013 to over 1000 students in 2016 according to the URI Counseling Center.
Eighty percent of those students report that their goal of therapy is to lessen anxiety and learn to cope better with stress – a feeling that freshman Gabriel Pratt knows all too well. “It’s hard getting up in the morning and being like, ‘Wow, I really don’t want to exist today,’” Pratt said. He has been dealing with anxiety and depression since elementary school. “On a day to day basis it’s not too bad, but when things get stressful, I just break down. It’s rough.”
However, Pratt said he is beginning to heal from his past experiences with depression and anxiety. “I feel like there’s a lot of benefits to college too, for me, like having that schedule that I can control, having more people that are like me,” he said. “I was really suffering through a lot of my childhood and I’m kind of beginning to heal from that, but it’s tough.”
The increase in individuals seeking help can also be perceived on a national scale according to sites like https://www.inpatientdrugrehab.org/ and Dr. Cory Clark, assistant director and director of training at the university’s counseling center. Similarly, in a recent study done on the prevalence of mental illness in the United States, Rhode Island ranked 50 for having higher rates of mental illness, according to Mental Health America.
“The age group of 18-24, they say 40 percent of those with mental health disorders don’t actually seek help. It’s one of the lowest help-seeking age groups that suffer from mental health challenges,” he said.
Conversely, Pratt said that a lot of the reason he feels individuals don’t seek help is because it doesn’t feel effective. “In middle school I went to a therapist every week for 6 months or so, and really it never really helped. It was always nice to have someone to talk to. But I don’t really think it ever got down to any of my core issues,” he said.
The university is currently taking steps towards training faculty and staff to aid in recognizing the signs of mental illness, according to the Vice President of Student Affairs Kathy Collins. “These faculty and staff are going to be trained in identifying mental health and be familiar with the resources we have here on campus but the resources that are available throughout South County and Rhode Island,” she said.
The university brought in an instructor over spring break that trained 15 individuals on mental health first aid. Each of these 15 individuals will now be required to complete three training sessions each year at URI. “They won’t be mental health counselors, it’ll be help to identify what those symptoms are early so we can be proactive so we can get those people to the professionals that are there.”
The URI Counseling Center offers a variety of different services from group counseling to individual counseling and simple consultations. “I often encourage students by saying think of it as taking another class but it’s about yourself and it’s about learning about yourself and how to be engaged and hopefully happier and more confident,” Clark said.
Pratt said he agrees that although it may not be easy to talk to someone, everyone deserves help. “For a long time I felt like my problems were not that bad, that I didn’t need help,” he said. “Regardless of how bad your problems are, you should always try and get help for them. Even if it’s just a minor case of depression, you are a human being and you deserve help for that.”
In the future, the University hopes to complete more training in departments that work more closely with students like resident advisors and campus recreation.