The University of West Georgia’s Counseling Center does not only cater to students with issues that involve school, family, finances, or other issues, but they also provide support for students with mental illnesses. Each year the center assists about 2,500 students; about 30 percent of these students have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Lisa Adams, a counselor and the director for the center, provided two definitions of mental illness. The first definition covers symptoms – and the second is behavior that is odd or abnormal. Examples are “counting in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD] or talking to people who aren’t there in other illness.”
As for interacting with students with mental illnesses, Adams said they should be treated the same. Students should spend time with them just as they would anyone else. The most helpful way to treat a student is to care and to show kindness toward them.
“I think that’s one of the worst things for people who have mental illness is to feel like they’re so different and that they’re alienated and alone,” Adams said. “They would need what everybody else needs, which is a friend: somebody to support them and be there for them when they can and help them see what they can’t see.”
The Counseling Center has award-winning programs for students with or without a mental illness. They provide individual, group and online counseling. Hotlines are also available to students, which can be found on the center’s website. Students with an illness are not counseled differently than those without. They also have outreach programs, like “Furry Friends for Finals,” and crisis intervention for students. Another resource called Therapy Assisted Online (TAO) is a tool to help students with their anxiety.
“Students who come into our center tell us that the most predominant issue that they have is anxiety and stress,” Adams said.
She believes these conditions stem from information overload since there is so much information available on the Internet; it may create anxiousness because students do not know what to do with all the information they find. She said it could also come from the pressure to be successful in school.
“With students, I think some of it’s about the expectation to be perfect; to make straight A’s and to graduate with honors and go get a bazillion-dollar-a-year job,” Adams said. “The stress and pressure of that, I think, is part of what goes on with that.”
Although the Counseling Center does not diagnose students, they do evaluate them “through [a] clinical interview and by using an assessment called Counseling Center Assessment of Symptoms.” Most of the students that come in do not have a mental illness; instead, they mainly face challenging situations they need help with. The Counseling Center wants to concentrate on helping students grow and move forward.
Surveys help the center know whether or not students benefited from their services. Students can also submit an online complaint form or put a note inside a box in the lobby. If a student is unsatisfied, it could be because the student is paired with the wrong counselor. Other reasons could be that students may think counseling is not for them.
“I feel like students who come here feel like they’re helped, and I certainly hope they do,” Adams said. “I hope if they felt otherwise, they would let me know that. That’s really important.”