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March 5, 2005

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Dartmouth students seeking counseling encounter 4-week wait

University Wire; 3/3/2005; Rebekah Rombom

(The Dartmouth) (U-WIRE) HANOVER, N.H. -- At the mental health screening session sponsored this fall by Dick's House, the health center at Dartmouth College, counseling representatives escorted a senior female, who wished to remain anonymous, to the appointment station after notifying her that she might suffer from bipolar disorder, she said.

They recommended she schedule an appointment immediately, but when she tried, the earliest available meeting was at the beginning of Winter term.

She is not alone. Students are waiting in line for three to four weeks to see a therapist at Dick's House, according to Mark Reed, director of counseling and human services.

While there is an on-call staff member who is available to see students in emergency situations, those seeking counseling for non-urgent issues must often wait up to four weeks for an appointment.

After the fall screening session, the student waited anxiously through winter break to learn of her final diagnosis -- she was not bipolar.

Due to the overwhelming number of students looking for appointments, the counseling center has been trying to augment their eight-member staff, but Reed said the College's budget has not yet allowed for such additions, forcing students to consider local off-campus therapists.

In addition to one-on-one therapy, the counseling and human development website lists 20 different support groups as options for students who desire ongoing support for certain issues, but only three of those groups -- the ones that deal with drugs and alcohol, eating disorders and students returning to campus after leave terms -- are currently meeting.

Reed attributed the waiting period for appointments to an increase in students seeking counseling services.

"We've had to change the way we do our practice," he said. "Twenty years ago, we had enough staff."

A combination of national and local trends has led to the swell in student patients, Reed said. In the last academic year, 994 students, a quarter of whom are on some type of psychiatric medication, made 6,000 visits to Dick's House.

According to Reed, students whose mental illnesses may have prevented them from being accepted to an institution like Dartmouth years ago are now seeking treatment earlier, enabling them to stay on track academically and gain entrance to prestigious colleges and universities. This population of students now requires treatment while on campus.

Students, however, may also simply be dealing with increasingly taxing lifestyles.

"I think it's just stressful to be a young person nowadays -- more stressful than it used to be. I think students are coming into college having lived a stressful life for a long time before they come here," Reed said.

He also cited Dartmouth's intense 10-week terms as a reason that students might be under more pressure.

Another senior said she had to wait through a third of this term to see a counselor.

"I called on Jan. 28 and didn't get an appointment until Feb. 16. It was really frustrating because I was in a pressing situation, and while seeing someone three weeks later did help to some extent, the counseling center really wasn't there in my time of need," she said.

Reed said he is glad to see more Dartmouth students seeking counseling but acknowledged the amount of time students have to wait for an appointment is too long.

"My first priority is to help with this waitlist," he said. "I'm not happy, and I agree with the students who are pretty upset."

Reed said he is aware of the problem faced by students who have pressing issues that Dick's House might not consider emergencies.

"I would like to have the waiting list smaller, and we're taking steps to decrease it," Reed said. "Part of this is a problem of Dartmouth's own success in being supportive of issues of mental illness and counseling. With all that success we've created a problem, where students who would like to make use of these services have to wait three to four weeks. In a short 10-week term, it's too long."

(C) 2005 The Dartmouth via U-WIRE

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