Staff Ed: Our wish list for the new health services and counseling building

As we approach the holiday season, the editorial board of The Retriever wants to reflect on our current health services accommodations. We found that the only present we want this holiday season is a better approach to mental and physical health on campus. Here’s our wish list.

A way to help students when they can’t physically access a health screening

Accessibility issues on this campus have been frequently called into question, and while University Health Services (UHS) have never been the direct subject of these complaints, they also aren’t particularly accessible. Tucked away in the basement of Erickson — but, conveniently, also disconnected from the other side of the basement and therefore unable to be reached directly by elevator — the health center is hard to find, hard to get to from the apartments, and even hard to enter, considering its narrow entryway. 

You’d think, considering this, that the UHS would have ways of helping students who can’t physically get to the building due to a disability, injury or even a particularly debilitating illness. But, instead, if you explain that you can’t make it to the UHS and need treatment, the only advice you’ll be given is to call an ambulance. The UHS needs to create a system to get care to students who need it, but for whom an ambulance is unnecessary or infeasible. 

At least one staff member available after-hours

College is stressful, and the societal requirement to not just succeed but excel takes a massive toll on most students. From breakdowns because of ALEKS to stress eating because of an exam, college is filled with moments where you just can not handle what professors and life is throwing at you. UMBC tells students that, in those crises, you can turn to the Counseling Center for help. What UMBC does not tell you is that you better have your crisis scheduled three to four weeks in advance. 

Despite the Counseling Center’s claim that they have a counselor on standby for walk-in appointments and any emergency, they do not because of staffing issues. Even if they did have someone available, most of the counselors are barely equipped to handle a crying student, let alone someone with a diagnosed disorder. This is particularly clear with how they treat anyone that would like recurring appointments; most counselors at the Counseling Center tell students to seek outside treatment if they seem more than simply stressed. If you seem to be or say you are having a crisis, then their first instinct is to call 911 or the UMBC police, something that hardly anybody having a breakdown wants. 

With so many issues with the staff at the Counseling Center, it is no wonder that UMBC students struggle to manage their mental health. A mind spa can not fix everyone’s problems. The UMBC Counseling Center needs to not only better staff their facility, but also better train their staff to actually handle the problems of UMBC students.

A distinction between long-term counseling and short-term care

Sometimes, life happens and students need help. That’s okay. However, some students need that extra attention and constant affirmation. That’s okay, too. However, the current distinction between long-term counseling services and short-term services is ambiguous, at best. A student may not need months of therapy to get over a bad breakup or a hectic week. They may need someone to talk to when times get rough. In those periods, dedicated counselors who work with students who need short-term care is essential. Understanding the difference between needing long-term care and short-term care can create a more personable session for each student. Students can get the exact care they need, without fear of making a long-term commitment. UHS must make that distinction between their long-term and short-term care clear in the future.

A way to schedule appointments online

For some students, the added stress of calling the Counseling Center or walking through the doors to make an appointment is too much. Since the university is investing an estimated $17 million into the new health services and counseling building, they can probably spare some change and get some software that allows students to make appointments online, outside of business hours. Besides accommodating students’ on-the-go schedules, this software could allow students to identity issues of concern before they walk into a counseling session. And it could relieve the pressure of making an appointment for students who view this first step as insurmountable. At the very least, the Counseling Center could create a Google form or calendar appointment slots where students could take this first step.

With these changes, we can ensure that students have access to the correct and specialized care they may need during their college experience.