In recent years, students have become more open to talking about sensitive subjects, contributing to an improvement in psychological health, administrators say.
Several campus services including Counseling and Psychological Services, Student Health, the Student Wellness Center and the Office of Student Affairs have worked jointly to deliver mental counseling to their patients, reaching around 6,000 students and parents annually. Students have become more aware of the difficulties of college life and are moving away from the concept of “effortless perfection,” which is the mentality that students have to maintain an appearance of excelling easily.
“We seem to be moving away from this extreme prohibition of struggle,” said Dr. Gary Glass, assistant director for outreach and developmental programming at the CAPS. “We seem to be going towards a student mindset of wanting to be open and having a better campus.”
Maintaining a healthy psychological environment on a diverse college campus can be difficult. Students’ different backgrounds make interactions about sensitive issues difficult, Glass noted. Duke has used a holistic approach to deal with mental health issues through three University offices. Collaboration between CAPS, Student Health and Student Wellness has increased awareness and broken down stereotypes that five years ago were cultural norms.
CAPS Director Kelly Crace has seen positive results both in the way students hear and access counseling services, citing a 33 percent increase since 2007 in referrals to counseling by friends of patients as opposed to other sources. Additionally, 35 percent of all patients said that they heard about CAPS from friends, which was the most popular response in the survey.
“The student responses to our efforts to affect campus climate have been very well-received,” Crace wrote in an email Wednesday. “Our outreach programs fill almost immediately, and the topics of those programs are intended to shift the paradigm of thinking about issues of perfectionism, relating, fear and worry.”
Online programs are being developed so that students can access help from their own rooms and on a flexible schedule, Crace added.
Glass noted that the increased student-oriented referral is a recent trend, and it shows that effortless perfection is dwindling at Duke.
“Students are more comfortable with the reality that life is hard and that you don’t have to fake [effortless perfection],” said Glass, explaining that student organizations are taking initiative to raise awareness for sensitive issues such as suicide, eating disorders, and gender roles.
Amy Powell, associate dean of students, who has worked with DukeReach—a program that allows students, faculty and family members to report signs of psychological issues in other students—has also seen these positive results.
“It’s not just departments speaking—students who have had experience with CAPS speak highly of it. A lot of times you need to talk to someone,” said freshman Faye Goodwin, who began seeing CAPS in September. “It was really helpful for me.”
Providing effective counseling, however, “is about the water, not about the fish,” Glass said, and there are still many problems that CAPS is attempting to tackle.
Glass noted that the biggest problem is that students assign and divide things into all or nothing terms that can lead to a lot of anxiety and pressure. This binary leads individuals to operate under fear—to sink or swim. CAPS workshops are made to deconstruct the binaries through establishing authenticity, purpose, harmony and connection in students.