Elon University sophomore Olivia May wanted to talk to a trained counselor at the university’s Counseling Services; however, after scheduling an appointment, it took her three weeks to meet with a counselor, which deterred her from using the resource again.
“I would only rebook an appointment at Elon Counseling Service if I had no other option,” May said.
Elon senior Sydney Daileanes had a similar experience to May and believes the lack of access to counseling services has consistently negatively impacted the student body.
According to its website, Elon’s student health and counseling services’ mission is to provide medical and mental health care to students. The university's counseling services offer students access to mental health support with a staff that is trained and prepared to help students with a wide range of educational, social and emotional challenges through goal-oriented therapeutic sessions.
In addition, Elon launched a partnership with TimelyCare to offer virtual health and well-being services in October 2021.
As a result of the Timely Care partnership, Daileanes said she has seen an improvement in Elon Counseling Services since she was a freshman. However, she believes improvements still need to be made regarding the inaccessibility of in-person meetings with the counseling department's licensed clinicians.
"When I seeked resources through Elon Counseling Services, they could only get me in for a session once every two-three weeks, which is not an effective therapy tactic," Daileanes said. "I believe the lack of access takes away the value of therapy. The key role of therapy is consistency."
Daileanes found the resources from the clinicians helpful but she would not rebook an appointment due to the lack of accessibility.
"I recommend the licensed clinicians because they were a helpful resource on campus; however, the lack of availability and demand would deter me from attempting to go because it is challenging to get an appointment," Daileanes said.
Elon junior Isabel Craig said she also believes she did not get what she needed from Elon Counseling Services.
"All the times I've gone to the counseling services, what I've needed has been dismissed,” Craig stated. “I went for six months, and after the end, the department said they wouldn't book me for next semester, but if I needed it, I could always reach out.”
Jana Lynn Patterson, dean of students and assistant vice president of student life, said the termination of a patient is not based on counselor availability, but on where the student is in their mental health journey.
"If a clinician feels like it would be better for a student to go out and practice strategies, and then maybe, come back, then it's a clinical decision," Patterson said. "It is not a decision based on availability; the clinician will evaluate progress and where people are with every client."
Patterson said the university’s partnership with TimelyCare allows students to access 24/7 mental and medical virtual health care.
"Students can use TimelyCare anytime, so whether it's 2 o'clock in the morning, 2 o'clock in the afternoon, or Saturday at 3 o'clock, that resource is always available,” Patterson said.
Elon Counseling Services additionally have resources set up if students are in crisis and need to talk to someone immediately, regardless of who they are or if they have previously set up an appointment with a licensed clinician at the department.
Junior Abby Benoit said she believes that the counseling department is an excellent resource because it is free and within a walkable distance; however, the lack of availability to in-person sessions makes the service less reliable.
"I had a positive experience with the counselor I met with," Benoit said. "However, it is really hard to form a relationship with a specific counselor because they have to terminate you after the end of each semester."
Both Benoit and Daileanes agreed they would not use this service again due to the struggle of getting an appointment, but instead, they would meet with a counselor elsewhere.
Craig said while she would not use the resource again, she would recommend the service to students on campus. Yet, she wished Elon Counseling Services did more to erase the negative stigma of mental health on campus.
“Elon Counseling Services has so many resources, so I know if I was struggling, the school offers resources to support me, which is very important,” Craig said. “Elon University, as a whole, is doing a great job. However, the Elon counseling department should be more advanced and not have a shameful undertone. Mental health support should be a center point of the Elon campus, not just a building on campus.”
Daileanes disagrees with Craig and believes Elon does not have a shameful undertone regarding mental health.
“It is important to remember in comparison to other schools, Elon has a tremendous mental health department that makes sure students feel supported,” Daileanes said.
May also believes that the university is being more involved and supportive in student wellness.
"I noticed on syllabuses professors urge you to reach out if you're going through something mentally, and they provide resources there, too.," May said.
Patterson said the department is working hard for mental health to have less of a negative undertone on campus, and the new wellness center is “intentional” and "poignant” to enable this.
Patterson explained that the new wellness center is a resource for students to raise their blood pressure through fitness and lower it through mental health-focused activities such as meditation.
"The wellness center will have spaces for meditation and quiet reflections; the center will also provide access to mental health services, and counseling will be there," Patterson explained. "We hope to increase our collaboration around health promotion so that we combine our academic partners and our SPARKS peer educators to think about how we can build a better culture surrounding mental health on campus."
Patterson hopes the department will increase collaboration around mental health promotion and focus on how it can build a better culture surrounding mental health on campus.
Though Daileanes is graduating in May, she hopes Elon's counseling department will work to prioritize the need for consistent appointments and continue to help students in their mental and physical wellbeing.
"Students' mental health matters, and it should be a top priority at Elon University," Daileanes said. "I hope Elon Counseling Services listens to students' requests for an increase of appointment availability and more staff in the counseling department, so the program continues to improve rather than for access to be more limited."