Some Ferris students believe Birkam’s scheduling policies may be deterring students with anxiety from seeking counseling.
According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2016 Annual Report, between the 2009-10 academic year and the 2015-16 academic year, the amount of students seeking counseling appointments increased by 30 percent, while enrollment grew by only five percent. Of those students, 61 percent report anxiety and 49 percent report depression.
Birkam Health Center schedules about 3,000 counseling appointments annually, according to Director of Health Services Lindsay Barber. Those appointments encompass a wide variety of issues, but some students believe that Birkam’s scheduling process could be preventing students with anxiety, especially social anxiety, from seeking help.
The policy requires students to come into Birkam in order to fill out an intake form before seeing a counselor.
“I think [the scheduling policy] could deter students. Scheduling an appointment can be a lot of students’ very first step in seeking help, which is a huge deal,” Ferris early education junior Lizzy Whitehead said. “I know a few students who suffer from social anxiety so intensely, even calling to schedule an appointment of that kind could cause an emotional episode.”
According to Barber, the policy is in place to ensure that students in critical situations are seen as quickly as possible. Barber also said that the forms students fill out in person are reviewed to determine the urgency of the issues.
“If a student in crisis were to complete a form after hours online, it would not be seen until at least 8 a.m. the next morning, maybe even longer if done over the weekend. That is not fair to the student or to the counseling center,” Barber said. “We want to make sure we have access to the student in cases of emergency and crisis.”
Barber said she does not see Birkam ever offering online scheduling because those issues are non-avoidable. There are 24/7 resources listed on Birkam’s website and Barber encourages students to use them if they feel they may be in crisis after hours. Ferris social work senior Anika Walton-Stanciel said counseling at Birkam helped her deal with situational anxiety, but she knows many people not seeking help.
“If you have anxiety, it’s one thing to come to terms with that and not just think that it’s stress, but it’s another thing to go seek help. If you’re already experiencing anxiety, sometimes just walking up to the door to make the appointment is overwhelming,” Walton-Stanciel said. “You might feel like everyone is looking at you or that people are going to see you walk in and wonder why you’re going in there…I think that deters people from going.”
Ferris Social Work Professor Michael Berghoef, who has a professional background in mental health, said that while these kinds of policies often have reasoning behind them, they can become a barrier for those seeking help.
“Anxiety, social anxiety in particular, would make all in-person aspects of initiating and attending counseling more difficult,” Berghoef said. “It would add to your concerns about anxiety, the issue of stigma, which unfortunately still limits access for many to counseling services. Again, our emphasis should be on addressing and reducing barriers and increasing access to a full range of mental health services.”
Birkam Health Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. After-hours mental health help is available on the Birkam web page found on ferris.edu.