Counseling Services: A Critical but Largely Unknown Campus Resource

By Meg Kazan

SALEM, Mass., Nov. 5, 2016 — Mental health, like physical health, is a necessity throughout life. Being of sound mind is imperative to the success of students and the earning of a degree, therefore, when universities offer counseling services it’s important for students to not only know about, but also take advantage of them.

Dr. Elisa Castillo, the Assistant Dean of Students for Wellness and counselor at the counseling services at Salem State University (SSU), wants the center to be a place where all students are, and feel, welcome.

“We want to make sure that everyone, female, male, female-identified, male-identified, gender non-conforming, and all other students feel welcome here,” Castillo explained.

Dr. Elisa Castillo in her office at the Salem State University counseling services in Salem, Mass.. Castillo is head of the services and new Assistant Dean of Students for Wellness. Photo: Meg Kazan

The ups and downs of college for students are frequent as the semesters progress with their assigned work, projects, tests, midterms, finals, and so many other factors that cause stress and anxiety to build-up. Across the country, college counseling centers and mental health clinics are reporting record numbers of students seeking help for issues such as anxiety and depression, a recent study showed.

“A 2014–2015 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 73.1 percent of counseling center directors reported an increase in the severity of student mental health concerns and related behavior on their campuses, while only 1.4 percent saw a decrease and 25.5 percent were unsure,” writer Joel Brown reported in a BU Today article published last month.

The counseling services at SSU are combined with the health services and are located in the Ellison Campus Center, while more than a walk away from South Campus, is a central location. The decision to combine counseling and health services was to give students a safe, anonymous place to visit for all their health related needs.

“Because counseling and health are combined, it’s safer and not as intimidating or exposed. People don’t need to know why you’re here, we have people write it down. We also have people use a kiosk to check in. It’s very anonymous,” said Castillo.

Upon entering the SSU counseling services it’s easy to feel at ease, the atmosphere is calm and inviting, the people at the desk are pleasant and helpful. The SSU center offers mostly individual counseling sessions, based off of the “brief therapy sessions.”

Sign for the counseling and health services in the Ellison Campus Center at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. Photo: Meg Kazan

Every university is required to offer certain services to its student body for their health and well being, but the services at SSU aren’t well known among its target audience.

“It’s a small center, we can’t see students over all four years. But we can always see students in crises cases. If there is an emergency or crisis, we can see them the same day, if needed,” said Castillo.

Hannah Johnson and Patrick O’Shea are both senior Communications majors who deal with mental health issues. For both students, the counseling services should be the perfect resource to get help, but the students are receiving help elsewhere.

“I believe they are located in the Ellison Campus Center?” Johnson asked.

But she’s never visited the office. She sees a therapist in Beverly for anxiety and Bipolar II depression.

“If I lived on campus I would use their services,”she said.

The location of the office isn’t the only important fact for students to like O’Shea and Johnson to know.Sstudents must also know what about the what services are offered.

O’Shea said he thought the office should do some public relations and advertising work.

“I think the best thing they could do would be to hold events or forums discussing mental health, maybe highlighting different disorders and then advertising support groups,” said O’Shea who, other than hearing from an administrator about them, has never seen or been to the counseling services.

Johnson agreed.

“I think if they sent a representative to a few classes and just spoke for five minutes about the services, what they offer, where they’re located, and maybe answer a few questions students may have. I think they could also get involved to not only promote themselves, but also hold events that are contingent to what they do, for example: hold events for students that somehow raise awareness for mental health or informative sessions about coping mechanisms for people with depression or anxiety,” Johnson added.

The health services have teamed up with students in the past for health-related campaigns and PR fliers and advertisements, and might do the same in the future for counseling. According to Castillo, the advertising and PR aren’t the only improvements that the university could help with on campus in order to improve the mental health of the student body.

“It’s important to train the faculty and staff to recognize if a student is dealing with mental health issues. Also, start working on health wellness programs on campus that teach coping skills like meditation, to help with stress relief, it’s very important,” said Castillo.

The more students know about the counseling services the more good it can and will do. If you know someone who might need to talk to a counselor, let them know about the services in the Ellison Campus Center; the check-ins are anonymous and the counselors are there to help. More information about the counseling center and services can be found on the SSU website.