Tiffany Miller

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Over the last five years there has been an increase in students seeking assistance with mental health at Winthrop University.

Health and Counseling Services data shows the counseling office served 635 students during the 2017-2018 academic year, the highest number in the past five years.

The increase in clients caused Winthrop to hire more staff to meet the rising demand, according to clinical coordinator Gretchen Baldwin.

“We have increased our staff as much as our budget has allowed us to,” Baldwin said. “We are always looking for ways to improve our services and refine them.”

Counselors in the Crawford Building served over 10 percent of the student population last year, according to Dr. Kwabena Sankofa, a psychologist at the counseling center.

“There was a time, back in 2013 and 2014, when we were seeing only 7.6 percent,” said Sankofa.

Additionally, Counseling Services took 3,188 appointments last year, which is a 23 percent increase from previous years.

The counseling center took measures to handle the increase in students seeking help, including switching from an appointment-based system to a same-day or walk-in system, according to Baldwin.

“This is a benefit because students would have to wait up to three weeks for an appointment before the switch,” said Baldwin.

Starting this year, the counseling office also is offering a service called TAO (or Therapy Assistance Online), which is an online module where students can access mental health resources.

“It’s an opportunity to get some psychoeducation about common presenting issues (such as) stress, anger, depression, substance use (and) relationships,” said Baldwin.

“I think Winthrop has quite a few things in mind to help students with issues at home or in school that are more mental in nature,” said Dartanyan Ball, a senior majoring in individualized studies.

“I think the only failing of it is that there is not usually a lot of outreach towards students in a way that reaches them and encourages them to go and use these services.”

Counseling Services does outreach, but students often don’t show interest in counseling because of the stigma attached to mental health, according to Sankofa.

“They (the students) will say they’re not really interested in counseling because they’re not crazy,” said Sankofa. “That’s the stigma.”

However, he said the vast majority of students seen by Counseling Services are dealing with the difficulties of college such as academic demands and roommate issues.

Winthrop tuition covers 10 counseling visits per academic year and there is no limit on the counseling visits in the Office of Victims Assistance, which assists students who have experienced trauma.

“We don’t criticize or judge our students. We listen to them genuinely and respectfully,” said Sankofa. “For those who still have a stigma about counseling, come and try us out. Get through intake and even a session or two and after that think things out.”