College is a time of transition for young adults. For many, it is the first time they’re living on their own and making decisions without the safety net of family. It can be overwhelming and exciting all at once. While parents hope they’ve done a good job preparing their child for college, students sometimes struggle nonetheless. In fact, a 2009 study found that almost 80% of college students reported feeling stressed on a daily basis and 34 percent reported feeling depressed. The 2018 American Freshman Survey found that about 10% of incoming freshman report feeling depressed.
A positive college experience depends on a student’s emotional wellbeing. Despite anxiety and depression being prevalent among college students, they are often reluctant to seek help from their college counseling center. Penn State’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) 2020 annual report found that few students sought services. For those that did, only 26% completed treatment. The question is, why is that?
The answer seems to lie in the perceptions that young college students have about traditional counseling.
- Students typically don’t think they need counseling and view their problems as minor or transient
- Perceived lack of time
- Not wanting other people to know their business
- Reliance on self-help techniques
- Preference for relying on family and friends
- Long waits at counseling centers
- Financial concerns
- Not knowing where to get help
Many of these concerns have a practical and factual basis. One of the biggest concerns related to mental health services is accessibility. Barring a mental health crisis, seeing a counselor can take weeks to arrange. By then, the urgency may have passed but the issue remains unresolved. Many colleges are looking to expand their counseling options to include a virtual counseling experience.
Faith-based schools have the added support of a student’s spiritual community. While this support is vital, some students experience a level of distress that requires a higher level of expertise. Christian and secular colleges often offer some form of counseling services, usually part of a student health center or a counseling training center affiliated with the college’s counselor education program. Smaller colleges, however, may lack resources for mental health services and use a “triage and refer out” approach.
Christian colleges can help their students cope with the demands and stressors of college life by offering virtual counseling for their students.
Why virtual counseling?
Virtual counseling addresses many of the students’ concerns about traditional counseling:
- Ideal for college-age students who grew up in the age of technology and communicate mostly online. It feels familiar.
- No waiting lists or limited appointment times means that students can schedule sessions when and how they need to.
- No need to travel to and from an office.
- More affordable than traditional therapy and often covered by insurance.
- Increased privacy and confidentiality with no need to show up at the school’s counseling center.
- Because the student can be at home, in the dorm, or in another secure setting, the session can take place in a setting that the student finds comfortable.
- Online services are available 24/7 and when the need arises.
- Online services are cost-effective and require minimal equipment that almost every college student has access to.
- The efficacy of online counseling is supported by research on many mental health issues.
Like any mental health initiative, it is important that the college engages in appropriate student education. Knowing where to go, how to access services, and how the process works removes another barrier to seeking help.
With mental health needs rising, access to mental health services is a growing concern among colleges and universities. Some schools are opting for traditional counseling center services while others are using a combination of service options including embedded counselors and online services. Having counselors onsite or embedded and available 24/7 is not practical for every setting. Virtual counseling offers an effective and accessible alternative or addition to existing mental health services for students.