In recent years, colleges across the country have seen increasing demand for mental health resources from students. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students who receive college counseling nationally increased by 30%. An investigation conducted by The Campus last year revealed that many students have not been able to receive timely support at Parton’s Counseling Center due to high demand for services. Over the past 20 years, counseling appointments at Middlebury have increased nearly 3.5 times, according to data from Parton.
This year’s Zeitgeist data corroborated the high rates of student counseling appointments highlighted in last year’s investigation: over a third of survey respondents (428 students) said they have been to therapy or seen a counselor at Middlebury. One-third of respondents have sought treatment for depression or anxiety since coming to Middlebury and nearly 20% of respondents said that depression or anxiety “always” impacts their experience at Middlebury.
A Campus article from January 2020 found that many students have struggled with a campus culture of harmful body and exercise standards. One student from this investigation said that “Middlebury has a very perfectionist culture.” Another student noted a “hyperprevalent” culture of “fatphob[ia]”.
Zeitgeist data reveals that over one-third of respondents have struggled with their relationship with food or exercise since coming to Middlebury, and two-thirds of respondents know a student who has faced one of these struggles.
Some students turn to substances to cope with mental health struggles. Around 8% of respondents said they “frequently” use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, and a quarter of respondents said they “occasionally” use drugs or alcohol as a means of managing stress.
Some respondents felt that mental health resources at Middlebury were inadequate. In total, 29% of respondents felt that mental health resources at Middlebury are inadequate,15% of respondents felt that they are adequate and 56% said they did not know.
Zeitgeist data suggest that students become more disenfranchised with mental health resources at Middlebury as they get older. While fewer than 10% of respondents from the class of 2023 found professional counseling and mental health resources to be inadequate, nearly 60% of respondents from the class of 2019.5 found these same resources to be inadequate.
Students from historically marginalized identities had worse perceptions of the mental health resources at Middlebury. Nearly 40% of students who identified as biracial and almost 35% of students identifying as black or African American felt that mental health resources are inadequate at Middlebury, compared to 27% of students who identify as white.
Of the 11 counseling staff members at Middlebury, none are counseling staff of color. According to Gus Jordan, executive director of the Parton Center for Health and Wellness, the center has been searching for an additional staff counselor since this past fall, and had solicited applicants and referrals from over 50 institutions with counselor training or similar programs, including historically black institutions with these types of programs. The search was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
A 2018 survey of university and college counseling centers found that nearly three-fourths of surveyed counseling staff identified as white. Culturally competent counselors have been found to achieve more positive clinical outcomes because psychosocial development can differ based on race, culture, or other demographic factors.
In an email to The Campus, Jordan said that multicultural competence was “essential for any counselor” and wrote that the counseling staff engage in various types of multicultural training every year, and regularly talk about issues of social justice and of difference.
“One of the central components of good counseling is the ability to join with a client, to come to understand and appreciate their world and their unique experiences from their perspective, with compassion and without judgment,” Jordan said. “This requires a deep appreciation for difference. It also requires humility and a desire to learn about others.”
For students who identified as LGBQ or questioning, 38.6% found professional health resources to be inadequate, compared to the 25.3% of students who are non-LGBQ identifying. LGBQ or questioning students are also more likely to experience mental health difficulties, with nearly 30% of these students saying that depression and anxiety “always” impacts their experience at Middlebury, while fewer than 20% of non-LGBQ students indicated the that they were “always” impacted by depression or anxiety.
Recent developments to mental health resources
In response to growing demand for mental health resources, Parton added a reworked mental health program this past fall. The program, led by the JED Foundation, aims to improve suicide prevention, substance abuse and mental health resources for schools. Although Parton has already expanded its counseling staff five-fold in the past 25 years, the center still hopes to expand further.
The Office of Health and Wellness announced the creation of a group called Mental Health Peer Educators, who will be available in the fall of 2020. According to their webpage, students will be trained to provide peer listening hours for Middlebury students, facilitate workshops on topics related to positive mental health, and facilitate a social connection-building program called ProjectConnect.
In coming years, the center plans to bolster staff for alcohol and drug-related issues, organize peer-and-counselor-coordinated support groups, and increase the availability of online resources, according to The Campus’ investigation around mental health.