Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
As we begin another academic year, it's important to provide an update on developments at the University of Maryland Counseling Center since the end of the spring semester.
The Counseling Center is one of several university and college counseling centers that are in the process of re-evaluating, retooling, and enhancing service delivery models to better meet the needs of students. Feelings of anxiety and persistent sadness are the most common concerns among our students, and the frequency of these concerns continues to rise.
Requests for an initial assessment increased last year by 16 percent compared with our Counseling Services' prior three-year average. For us, this is good news indicating the decades of work by mental health practitioners to reduce stigma related to mental health is finally taking hold. This new generation of students is successfully challenging mental health myths and breaking down barriers to get the care they need. For the greater part of last year, Counseling Center leadership engaged in a series of discussions in which we examined our core priorities, assessed our services, analyzed our resources, and identified strategies for expanding service delivery options.
As a result, the Counseling Center has implemented several initiatives, thanks to the support of Student Affairs Vice President Linda Clement. With funding allocated from stadium sales and reallocation of internal resources, we added five new professional positions and have filled most of our existing vacancies. We will enhance our service delivery model with a new triage system that will provide students with more timely access to needs assessments, which is an important first step for matching students with appropriate services, treatment, or community resources. This system is expected to be underway mid-semester.
In partnership with the University Health Center, the Counseling Center staff is excited to introduce WellTrack. This self-help mobile application provides immediate resources and tools to help students cope with stress, depression and anxiety. Students can install the app on their smartphones via Google Play or the Apple App Store. As we promote WellTrack, we hope to reach large numbers of students who may not necessarily need or seek traditional therapy, but who may appreciate the convenience of having a variety of self-help strategies readily available to them.
We have also increased the number of sections of our psychoeducational workshops, Anxiety Toolbox and Getting Unstuck. These 3-session cognitive-behaviorally based workshops are recommended to students who are assessed as good fits for these interventions. Furthermore, the Counseling Center has expanded its very popular group therapy interventions with a few new options, including groups focused on coping with depression, building coping skills, a support group for Latinx students and a group for white students who wish to be better racial allies and understand themselves better.
As always, crisis services are available at the Counseling Center. Students experiencing a psychological crisis can be seen for a drop-in evaluation during business hours. I want to make sure every student also knows that after normal business hours, on weekends, and during university breaks, crisis counselors are available at all times by calling the Counseling Center main number at 301-314-7651.
The Counseling Center and University Health Center continue to promote Kognito, an online, self-guided training for enhancing skills in responding to students in distress. Kognito is available to faculty, staff and students on the Counseling Center and University Health Center websites.
Finally, we are partnering with various student organizations, such as the Student Government Association, the Help Center and SPARC, with the common goal of educating the UMD community about mental health care in general, and specifically about the Counseling Center's spectrum of services for students seeking help. Thank you to the many students who are working to support their fellow Terps and who have been vocal advocates for needed resources. We appreciate your voice and feedback.
As one of the many safety nets on campus, we are committed to the mission of providing holistic psychological and career services to equip students with tools for making sound decisions, navigating challenges, understanding the value of missteps, and appreciating the journey of the academic experience.
Best wishes for a productive and growth-inspiring academic year.
Sharon Kirkland-Gordon is the director of this university's Counseling Center. She can be reached at email@example.com.