University News

Students seek additional Psych Services support

Long waits for appointments and limited number of free visits elicit student complaints

Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 6, 2014

The number of students visiting Psychological Services peaks during exam periods. Students are currently offered seven free visits per year.

The number of students who visit Psychological Services tends to increase during midterms and rise until finals, said Sherri Nelson, director of Psychological Services, adding that the percentage of students who visit has remained “surprisingly consistent, between 16 and 17 percent over the past several years.”

As more students frequent the office during midterms season, Psychological Services is currently facing criticism over the number of free visits allotted each student as well as wait times for appointments, she said.

Some students have expressed concern that the number of free visits, which increased from five to seven in 2010, is not enough, Nelson said.

After a student has used up the free visits or would like to seek long-term therapy from an outside provider, Psychological Services recommends students call certain therapists who operate a short distance from the campus, Nelson said.

One junior, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said the limited number of free visits can give students more stress. “Students are so stressed, and knowing that they will have to go off campus, find someone else to talk to and deal with insurance is an added burden,” she said.

The limit of free visits is due to staffing limitations, Nelson said.

Students have also complained that the wait time for appointments, which varies from a few days to two weeks throughout the semester, is too long, Nelson said, adding that the office is “always available for crisis appointments, so that a student in a crisis would not have to wait for an appointment.”

“Two weeks is a really long time when you need help now and that can be a deterrent and that is really unfortunate,” said Julia Lynford ’14, co-president of Active Minds, a student group working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health on college campuses.

Additionally, students have voiced concern over a lack of diversity within Psychological Services.

“I’ve heard from a lot of students that sometimes they will feel uncomfortable due to cultural minorities and LGBT providers not being well represented,” Lynford said. “They don’t want to go because they are afraid that providers won’t know where they are coming from,” she added.

Psychological Services is actively working on finding ways to “draw in groups that are less inclined to come in naturally because of a stigma,” Nelson said, adding that the office has sent representatives to orientation events and workshops for international students, in addition to hosting presentations and support groups.

The office is “very concerned about the issues … and we are glad that students are raising these issues,” Nelson said. “Talking about them is an important and crucial avenue for making changes.”

Nelson was a featured speaker at a Minority Peer Counselor Resource Workshop yesterday titled “Open Minds” aimed at fostering discussion about mental health at the University. “I think that there will be changes as a result of this and as a result of other conversations within the university and in our department,” Nelson said.

“We are open to suggestions, and we basically say yes to just about every presentation or orientation that we are asked to come to,” she added.

While the office grapples with the stigma surrounding mental health, student groups are sparking conversation around campus about mental health issues.

Mental health is beginning to gain more awareness on campus, Lynford said, adding that “It’s growing in the media more and more and everyone is talking about it now.”

“The issue is that in everyday language people tend to use terms like OCD or ‘I’m depressed,’ and I think that tends to trivialize the situation where someone is really trying to say they had a nervous breakdown and it was serious,” said Sophia Liang ’15, president of the Student Volunteers for the Samaritans of Rhode Island.

Understanding that certain terms have more weight and should not always be used is one way students can work to reduce the stigma of mental health at the University, Liang said.

The junior who asked to remain anonymous said a stigma is attached to seeking help for mental health issues. “It needs to be more of a common thing to just go talk to someone even if you’re just going through something small,” she said. “It’s good to have preemptive things, like talking to someone before you’re in a crisis.”

“Something we’re really trying to work on is the stigma that goes along with seeking mental health treatment,” Lynford said. “There can be a stigma in our age group of people not wanting to seem weak and seek help.”


A previous version of this article misstated the title of a Minority Peer Counselor Resource Workshop about mental health. It was “Open Minds,” not “Active Minds.” The Herald regrets the error.

  • Dia

    The conversation was not ‘Active Minds,’ it was called ‘Open Minds’