UAB sees 114 percent increase in students seeking counseling services


More college students are seeking mental health support nationwide.

UAB is no exception. UAB’s counseling center has seen a 114 percent increase for students seeking counseling services over the past five years. That rate is coupled with just an eight percent increase in enrollment.

To keep up with rising demand, UAB has doubled its number of counselors over the last five years and it's adding an additional counselor this year.

There are many factors that contribute to the reason why students are putting a bigger emphasis on mental health support, but several students explain one main reason is that seeking help is becoming more normal and has less stigma.

“I was in crisis last spring semester,” UAB Grad Student Celina Atkins vividly remembers the day she decided to try counseling.

“And it helped being open with my colleagues who have been going to counselors and saying, maybe you should go to someone,” said Atkins.

Atkins calls that experience a “tremendous turnaround.” Now she serves on UAB’s Student Advisory Board for Counseling Service, along with Asmi Chakraborty and Juhee Agrawal.

“The stigma is decreasing,” said Agrawal. “We have a long way to go.”

"People are becoming more normalized to the idea that I can actually go to counseling and seek help and that’s actually a good thing to do early on," said Chakraborty.

The three students work with organizations across campus to spread the word about counseling services at UAB.

Those are services Dr. Angela Stowe sees a need for. She's director of UAB student counseling services.

“56 percent of students report experiencing overwhelming anxiety,” Stowe explained.

Stowe also said 36 percent of UAB students report feeling too depressed to function in the last 12 months. 50 percent felt things were hopeless. 10 percent thought about suicide. 3.3 percent attempted suicide.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students so it’s a very serious issue,” Stowe explained.

Stowe sees several key reasons more students are saying "yes" to counseling.

One is increased communication about mental health and a decreased stigma.

“With the rising cost of college, students (also) have a higher level of debt than they ever have before,” said Stowe. “There’s also an increased prevalence of homelessness and in food and security.”

And some students also credit social media.

“One is this increased stress and this increased sense of the necessity for perfection,” said Agrawal. “In a sense, social media helps perpetuate that with people picking and choosing what they want to post is shaping this alter ego of someone who’s life is all put together and perfect. And when you see that, you may not feel the same way, feeling that sense that things aren’t perfect with you and that sense of shame and loneliness increases stress and the need for mental health support.”

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