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University of Missouri campuses addressing increased student mental health needs

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
The Counseling Center at Missouri S&T has seen an increase in students seeking its services.

The four campuses of the University of Missouri System are seeing an increase in requests for student counseling and other mental health services and are working together to meet the demand.

Chris Sullivan, who oversees counseling services at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the increase is part of a national trend as students face rising pressure ranging from stress over finances to trying to succeed in a new environment.

UMSL has seen a 50 percent increase in students seeking mental health services on campus over the past five years. At Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, it’s been a 20 percent jump over the past year.

“They are looking to us to help them,” Sullivan said. “The need is not going to decrease anytime soon.”

Patti Fleck, director of counseling services at Missouri S&T, said on her campus the focus has been on decreasing the stigma of getting help, and encouraging students to help each other.

“Having that front line of students, but also of faculty and staff, be aware of how to be helpful, how to interact, and how to connect with our services,” Fleck said.

The increase in usage of services has been larger than the increase in enrollment, she said.

“And one of the ways of looking at that, is that’s an indication that we have been successful in reducing stigma,” Fleck said.

UMSL is also working on getting the word out to students.

“We have done a lot of outreach, mostly to make sure students know we are here. We emphasize getting help if needed, and techniques to identify real problems,” Sullivan said.

And he wants to expand services.

“I have a proposal in to increase the size of the staff,” Sullivan said. “We are able to do what we need to do, but we need more resources to do what we need to do better, and meet a demand that will likely continue to rise.”

Sullivan, Fleck and their counterparts in Columbia and Kansas City have regularly scheduled conference calls where they discuss how they are helping their students.

“All four universities are different, and there are some different issues, but there is commonality in what we are seeing is that more students need mental health services,” Sullivan said.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.