Mental health and COVID-19: University counseling services help students address unique challenge

Edyta Wolk


According to the CDC, 40% of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse this past June, and the most badly impacted group was young adults age 18-24.

Matthew Burriss, director of the Wellness Center at Franciscan University of Steubenville, explained that these statistics are not surprising given the already rising demand for mental health services seen over the past few years.

“There’s been an increased demand for counseling for several years now (on campus),” he said. “That’s not strange. That’s actually very consistent with what universities have been seeing on a national level as well.”

However, Burriss said that counselors at the Wellness Center are more than ready to help students get through this challenging time, and an increased number of resources are now available to them.

“There’s several things we’ve done in the last few years to help meet that need,” said Burriss. “The first is we started adding additional hours. We have evening hours; and so in addition to the daytime 9-4, we also have two evenings open for counseling services.”

Burriss also has a larger staff than ever before.

“We have three full-time counselors, three part-time counselors, six interns from our graduate clinical mental health counseling program, and then we also have two contract counselors who work here as well,” he said. “So if you put that all together there’s a lot of people providing counseling services.”

To request counseling, one need simply fill out a request for counseling form from the Wellness Center.

Burriss encouraged all students struggling with mental health to come and sign up for counseling, even if they might feel intimidated.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “There is still a bit of a stigma that counseling is only for people who are severely mentally ill. But the truth is that counseling is beneficial for virtually anybody.”

“If somebody’s struggling, it is much better that they get the help that they need,” said Burriss. “We would love for them to come sign up for counseling.”

He also encouraged students not to be scared of a waitlist, as he and the staff make it a point to constantly move people off the waitlist and see everyone at least once when they request counseling. The waitlist is never as long as campus rumor suggests, he said.

Additionally, the Wellness Center offers crisis sessions that do not need to be scheduled and do not have waitlists.

“One of our counselors always has their 9 a.m. spot open in the event that someone who is really struggling can come in and talk to a counselor at that 9 a.m. slot,” Burriss said.

Burriss explained that the Wellness Center at Franciscan is actually unique in its approach to providing regular counseling to students.

“Most universities cap the number of sessions that a student is allowed to receive at their counseling center. … Everybody who gets seen can only be seen two or three times,” he said. “Then after that they have to go off campus. The question becomes: is that really what’s best for our student body?”

“Here, we believe that it makes more sense to give people the help they need regardless,” Burriss said. “Everybody who signs up for counseling we try to meet with at least once over the course of the semester; however, there’s many students who are seen eight, nine times over the course of the semester.”

While the future of the pandemic remains unclear and the rest of this year will continue to have certain difficulties, it is the hope of Burriss that students know they do not have to struggle alone.