Colleges see increased demand for mental health services

Mental health services in demand on campus (WCIV)

In Katie Braeuer's two years as director of counseling at Charleston Southern University, she’s seen a dramatic shift.

"We are really about maxed out on space,” she explains.

The liberal arts school in North Charleston is now joining dozens of other universities in the surging demand of mental health services.

"Our numbers here are really consistent with national trends,” says Braeuer. "Fifty percent of our students are coming in with stress, anxiety and depression."

In the last two years, she has seen a 38 percent growth in clients.

“I think social media has played a huge role in it. Celebrities are coming out and endorsing things. Sports figures and athletes are talking about depression and panic attacks,” she said. “It's becoming more of a normalized thing to discuss, likem 'Hey, I go to see my therapist.'"

Crystal McCall knows that feeling. The soon-to-be masters student says she's sought help several times from CSU counselors. She recalls many moments where she thought no one understood her.

“That's what makes us human; we tend to kind of listen to those thoughts and I think that's another great reason why we should be talking it out with someone,” says McCall.

McCall will be part of the inaugural class for the Masters of Counseling program. School leaders say it was critical to add the degree, understanding the growing need for mental health professionals nationwide.

“As service need increases, the demand for counselors is going to increase,” said Braeuer.

An American College Health Association study found about 20 percent of college students had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. That's up from 10 percent when the survey started in 2000.

At CSU, the wait time for a student appointment is about four days. It's Braeuer’s goal to eventually cut that in half.

“If we had three more rooms and three more counselors we'd fill all of them up,” she said.

By August, she hopes to have another full-time counselor on staff. The service is free and there's no session limit. Braeuer doesn't anticipate the need lessening.

“We are not a revenue-producing department, which I understand. At the same time, we are a revenue maintaining department. Ninety percent of our kids who seek counseling say counseling helped them stay in school and stay enrolled in college which I think is tremendous. Very frequently we hear, 'man, I wish I would have done this sooner.'”

That's why Braeuer is in frequent contact with school leaders. She informs them of the department's growth, so they’re able to plan.

As for Braeuer’s message for students: it's her mission to be their guide and navigator.

“You don’t have to have to suffer with what your suffering with and you don't have to have to deal with these problems by yourself. There is someone in your corner willing to champion you and advocate for you,” explains Braeuer.

ABC News 4 also reached out to the College of Charleston for statistics. Officials estimate around a 10 percent increase for mental health services over the past four years. They say most of the requests are for anxiety issues.

If you or someone you know needs emotional help, there’s help available.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1 877 SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727) to get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

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