College students face myriad circumstances that can impact their emotional and mental health, from the pressure to excel in class and get along with roommates to the stress of paying for school and figuring out what to do with their lives.
It is a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone young people who are on their own for the first time and spent at least some of their adolescence in pandemic lockdown. Nationally, surveys indicate up to 60 percent of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem and three-quarters reported moderate or severe psychological distress.
Grove City College students may be a different breed, but they are not immune to these issues. Last year, nearly a quarter of students on campus sought help from the College’s Counseling Center for a range of concerns, led by depression, anxiety, and relationship issues, according to Dr. Suzanne N. McDanel, director of Counseling Services and assistant professor of Psychology.
The Counseling Center’s approach is distinctive, McDanel said “We offer individual counseling as our primary intervention and provide services in person. We treat all students who seek services, regardless of severity,” she said.
Their efforts are recognized nationally by The Princeton Review, which included Grove City College in its top 20 roundup of Best Colleges for Student Support and Counseling. The ranking is based on student survey questions and reflects student opinion.
The center also sees many students who are experiencing adjustment issues: living away from home, handling new-found independence and responsibilities, and meeting academic demands, McDanel said. On top of these common problems, students are still dealing with the fallout of pandemic lockdowns and isolation.
“Post-pandemic, some students may be less skilled in managing emotions, social interactions and demands, and working independently, which may be an outgrowth of extended periods of social isolation coupled with changes in learning delivery and expectations,” McDanel said. “Some students missed out on experiences that produce emotional and intellectual growth. Consequently, we are seeing developmental delays in social skills and emotional regulation.”
To address those and other issues, the center’s counselors help students develop an understanding of what they are experiencing and ways to deal with it through education and therapy. The center’s staff – McDanel, five full-time counselors and one part-timer -- serve hundreds of students each year with an array of mental health services, including individual counseling, consultations, groups, seminars, trainings, and crisis management interventions. In some situations, due to staffing issues or a student’s need, the center provides referrals to outside agencies.
In the 2021-22 academic year, 24 percent of the student body sought help through the counseling center. More freshmen sought help than the year before and 46 percent of the 2021 graduating class received services during their years on campus.
The center also conducts campus-wide efforts to help students understand issues that can affect them emotionally and psychologically, including a peer support program and promoting wellness through social media activity and online video series “His View.”
While Grove City College is a Christian institution, counselors let students set the tone for their encounters. Where a student may be on their faith journey is part of the assessment process, McDanel said. “The student leads with what aspects of self are worked on, in accord with ethical guidelines of our helping professions,” she said.
“I think we are different in as much that we are as ‘faith filled’ as we are ‘faith based,’” Counselor Molly Hepner said. “While we allow students to gauge how faith is incorporated into sessions, behind the scenes, we pray with and for one another as well as for our students. This is a Spirit led work as only the Holy Spirit can do.”