Evan Santiago

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — A number of Winthrop students say they’re more comfortable discussing their mental health, which may be reflected in a general increase in counseling visits on campus.

New data from a report produced by Winthrop University’s Health and Counseling Services shows fewer students sought counseling last year, after five years of increases, and more students reported they have considered suicide.

The report — prepared by Dr. Gretchen Baldwin, clinical coordinator for counseling services, for the school’s board of trustees — states the number of counseling appointments dropped from 3,188 during the 2017-18 school year to 2,417 for 2018-19.

The number of students served also declined from 635 to 573 over the same period, however, Baldwin said staffing issues likely led to the drop.

“Counseling Services was down a (full-time) counselor during spring 2019, which impacted total clients served and total appointments,” stated Baldwin, in the report.

The decline, last year, comes after visits increased by 1,142 appointments over the previous four years.

Additionally, the number of students who reported “experiencing suicidal ideation” increased from 63 during 2014-15 to 91 last year.

Overall, close to 40 percent of all counseling visits last year involved a student who reported considering suicide at some level.

According to the report, the majority of counseling appointments were related to anxiety and depression and the number of those visits has risen steadily over the last five years.

For example, visits related to generalized anxiety disorder increased from 18 percent of total appointments during the 2014-15 school year to 30 percent in 2018-19.

However, students credit the increase in appointments to young people being more vocal about their mental health, rather than more students contemplating suicide.

“A lot of people get embarrassed to just talk about their feelings. They feel as though other people will judge them for being weak or just not being able to control their emotions altogether,” said Kristina Duong, a Winthrop student.

“I do feel as the years go by and time goes by, that stigma (around mental illness) is getting broken down, because people are seeking help now and realizing that it is okay to go seek counseling.”

The number of clients who reported they felt they “significantly improved” after their counseling visit has held fairly steady, between 31 and 37 percent, over the last five years.

The low water mark was 2016-17 when only 31 percent of clients said they improved significantly, while 36 percent reported significant improvement last year.

Spencer Langston, a mass communication major, said the ease of access to counseling services on campus has positively impacted his well-being.

“Counseling services provide me, not only with counseling, but also psychiatric help. They help me with prescriptions and medications and all that, so really I’m doing a lot better than I was before I started,” Langston said.

Baldwin said Health and Counseling Services was unable to compare the findings in the report to national data at this time.

In the meantime, Winthrop has taken other steps to assist students with their mental health, including providing online counseling and bringing therapy dogs to campus.

For some students, these resources may have helped make them more comfortable talking about their mental health.