UW-Eau Claire’s Counseling Services reacts to influx of student cases

As the pandemic continues to add pressures to students, Counseling Services tries to adjust to the growing number of student cases

Nick Porisch

More stories from Nick Porisch

The Highlight Reel
May 10, 2023

Photo by Ashlie Fanetti

In the midst of a pandemic, counseling services has experienced an intake delay

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of reported anxiety and depressive disorder in adults leaped from one in ten to one in four

Out of a survey of 195 university students published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, 138 or 71% reported increased stress and anxiety due to the pandemic.

According to Riley McGrath, director of UW-Eau Claire’s Counseling Services, this semester has seen these trends impacting the university’s counseling department.

McGrath said that, compared to the same time last semester, Counseling Services has had a 21% in students seen, from 433 students to 523.

The current average wait time for an intake appointment has also nearly doubled in the past year from 8.61 days to 16.67 days, according to McGrath. This average is expected to continue rising as appointments are being scheduled as far out as January now.

An anonymous fourth-year student said she has run into issues trying to set up appointments with Counseling Services.

“I’ve gone to Counseling Services twice during my time here, and both times after my initial intake appointment with a counselor, they directed me to group therapy instead of continuing one-on-one,” she said.

Counseling Services claimed group therapy would be a good fit for her, she said, but she always felt it was more likely due to a lack of resources for one-on-one appointments in the department.

The source said she had heard from other students who had a similar experience with Counseling Services, and another student, who also preferred to remain anonymous, also said that after their initial intake appointment they were directed to group therapy over one-on-one appointments.

McGrath said that Counseling Services had been down one clinician from the start of the semester until Oct. 18, which has put even more pressure on the department.

“We saw significantly more students when compared to last year and did so with less staff,” McGrath said.

However, McGrath said he is meeting with the Student Senate Finance Commission at the end of November to request a special allocation to fund two more clinicians for the next two years.

“If it is approved, it would allow for us to increase our capacity and see approximately 220 more students per year,” McGrath said.

McGrath also said Counseling Services is offering additional resources for students so that they can still get the help they need despite the current overload on the Counseling Services department.

These include a YouTube channel featuring mental health workshops, the online mental health tool Silvercloud which offers self-guided mental health programs, and case management appointments to assist students who’d like to connect with mental health providers in the community.

Additionally, McGrath said Counseling Services offers immediate crisis sessions from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Students can drop in any time during these sessions and immediately be in contact with a counselor.

If you are in need of help, below is also a list of hotlines and text lines you can contact:

  • Northwest Connections Mental Health Crisis Line – 1-888-552-6642
  • Crisis Text Line – Text HOPE to 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Line – 1-800-273-8255
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1-800-656-4673
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
  • TREVOR (LGBTQIA) Lifeline – 1-866-488-7386
  • Trans Lifeline – 1-877-565-8860
  • Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255

Porisch can be reached at [email protected].