Faculty, RAs answer call to help students dealing with depression symptoms

Arin Bisaro | Staff Photographer Students often find themselves feeling devastated, alone, hopeless, and without options. It is common for students with depression to feel that suicide is the only way out.


Recognizing cries for help from students with symptoms of depression in the residence halls isn't part of Josh Finch's stated job description, but it's on his priority list.

A former Trout Hall resident assistant, Finch has in the last few years helped to identify and offer therapy avenues for students dealing with mental health, depression and self-worth issues.

He's not alone. Many other RAs around campus are making a concerted effort to get students help before they are consumed by depression or take their own lives in an act of desperation.

“We might see something with cutting behaviors or suicide issues,” Finch said. “It might be something as simple as stress or a roommate situation.”

As a hall counsel adviser in Troutman and Carey halls, the Midland senior has been a sounding board for students in need. Take for example, a freshman who came to Finch seeking help after an orientation seminar in the fall of 2011.

“There were people in her past she had lost, and she felt responsible for it, and had a few self-esteem and self-worth issues,” Finch said. “This person was someone who was very outgoing and, on the outside, you’d never know something was wrong. Not many people knew this was a problem she was going through.”

After several conversations with the student, Finch suggested she make a Counseling Center appointment. He walked her over to make her feel more at ease with her decision to get help.

“By no means was it a quick fix,” he said, "but it's something throughout the year, through our conversations, I could see it getting better."

The Counseling Center, located in Foust Hall, has logged an increase of 35 students seeking "urgent or same day" counseling sessions from fall 2011 to fall 2013, according to data provided by Counseling Center Director Ross Rapaport.

In Fall 2011, 134 students received urgent or same day counseling sessions. Two years later, that number jumped to 169 student in fall 2013.

However, the number of total people counseled fluctuated during this period. In 2011, 548 students received counseling services. That number declined to 514 in 2012, before rising again in 2013, with 540 students counseled.

All together, more than 1,000 students have received counseling services, with 293 students receiving urgent, same-day services. There are  no totals tallied for the entire 2013-14 academic year, as the spring semester is still in session.

Rapaport said urgent, same-day appointments are increasing even past the tallied numbers on a daily basis.

“I think there are situations that occur where the student believes they need to be seen on the same day and we try to respond to that,” Rapaport said. “If it's coupled with having a wait list, that's a way of getting in to see a counselor as well.”

A major reason for depression and self-worth issues among college students is the multitude of responsibilities that come with being a young adult.

“I think there are a lot of stresses of being a student these days,” he said. “People are juggling multiple roles. Financially, it's difficult. Higher education is not easy for most of us. So a lot of things are coming together.”

If a faculty member is concerned with a student's well-being, Rapaport said they have been advised to talk with the student about their concerns and let them know of available resources, but only if they feel comfortable doing so.

Instructors have identified a number of student issues before they evolved into deeper, darker symptoms, including Brenda Skeel, an interior design instructor.

Skeel teaches courses with typically smaller class sizes. Because of this, she has had an opportunity to build a sense of trust with her students, allowing her to spot potential issues as they arise.

“In my experience, if someone is struggling, they are more comfortable coming to us as instructors because they have the same group of instructors the entire way through," Skeel said. "And so I have had students come and talk with me about issues and things going on. I think they may be more comfortable approaching us within this program than they may be in other programs because they're not anonymous.”

Students have been more willing to open up and talk about their problems this year than previously, said Skeel, who has taught at the university since 2007.

“I think I've known them since they've started the program, where some of the students in the past I had only known for a couple of classes," she said. "Now I've known them for many classes and throughout their time in the program. We've worked on different projects together outside of class, so I think there's probably a different comfort level both ways for people to be able to come and talk.”

According to the uptick in counseling numbers, the methods are working.

And while instructors or RAs don't get paid for the added help they provide, Finch said the intangible rewards make it all worth it.

“They'll tell you 'You're the reason I'm still at CMU,' or 'You're the reason I'm applying to be an RA,'” he said. “That's something a lot of us do it for.”


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