Engemann prepares to respond to student stress

With final exams fast approaching, the Engemann Student Health Center is ready for a surge in the demand for mental health services. Kelly Greco, a staff psychologist and the assistant director of outreach and prevention services, said many students become overwhelmed toward the end of the school year.

“Around this time, right before finals and graduation, you sometimes see an increase in services [needed],” Greco said. “We do our best in terms of keeping up with that.”

Mental health issues are increasingly common among college students. A 2015 report by the Center for Collegiate Health at Penn State University — which collected data from 139 colleges — found “slow but consistent growth” over the past five years in the number of students experiencing depression, anxiety and social anxiety. The report also found that over the last five years, the demand for counseling services has been “dramatically outpacing” the rate of school enrollment.

Greco said she can see why individuals struggle psychologically during their college years.

“I think at this stage of development, it’s difficult because you’re trying to find your way and trying to find what you like and what you want to do with your career,” Greco said. “You might be feeling expectations that you’re putting on yourself or that you get from others … how you respond to that plays a role in your stress.”

For USC students, Engemann provides a range of services including individual counseling, group counseling, crisis services and stress management workshops. A student seeking counseling can call or go online to make an appointment for a phone consultation with a counselor. According to Greco, a consultation is scheduled within 48 hours of the student reaching out. During the phone appointment, the counselor assesses the student’s needs and provides recommendations for treatment.

Alternatively, students can call to schedule an appointment in case of a crisis. Engemann also offers a 24-hour hotline that students can call for emergencies outside of regular hours. Greco says Engemann makes it a priority to accommodate students quickly.

“It’s like any other doctor’s office — walk-ins are a first-come, first-serve type thing,” Greco said. “But there are always clinicians on the front line that are handling the walk-ins every single day.”

Sasha, a senior studying political science who declined to use her last name for privacy reasons, uses walk-in appointments when she wants a more knowledgeable and professional outlook on a problem she’s facing.

“I feel like when you talk with your friends, oftentimes, they only have their own perspectives to share,” Sasha said. “But when you go to Engemann, you have resources to help you.”

From her experiences, Sasha believes that Engemann counselors are equipped to deal with a variety of issues.

“I’ve gone for relationship things, I’ve gone for test anxiety,” Sasha said. “They really are just there to help with whatever the student needs.”

Although Engemann does have staff psychiatrists who provide short-term care, students who have more severe symptoms and require ongoing psychiatric treatment are referred to external mental health professionals.

“If [the student] is deemed as being appropriate for brief, short-term psychotherapy, they would see a clinician and see the psychiatrist here for a short term,” Greco said. “If someone needs ongoing care, we help them get connected with someone in the community.”

While Greco said that Engemann makes an effort to refer students to doctors who are nearby and covered by Aetna student health insurance, it may still be difficult for some students to make time for and travel to sessions off-campus. Sasha thinks that long-term counseling with resident psychiatrists would be a good addition to the services currently provided.

“Something they could offer is long term services so [students] can stay with a therapist or psychiatrist for longer than a semester,” Sasha said.