In recent years, colleges nationwide have experienced a pronounced uptick in the numbers of students seeking mental-health services, and Whitworth is no exception. Last year, 20 percent of Whitworth students visited the counseling center at least once, a percentage that has increased each year since Director Monica Whitlock arrived in 2014.
"A university like ours that lives out our mission of educating the mind and heart should excel in addressing the psychosocial needs of students," she says. "If you're educating the heart and the heart has some wounds, then we need to heal the heart."
During Whitlock's tenure, Whitworth has increased the counseling center's staffing and services. Each student may now receive 10 counseling sessions each year instead of six. The center's six counselors offer about 70 hours of counseling per week to meet the needs of students.
A number of factors are leading more students to seek counseling. Whitlock cites greater awareness of the counseling center and decreasing stigma related to mental-health issues among students. "Students are more willing to get help when they're stuck," she says.
But she also points to troubling developments: Suicide rates have steadily increased around the nation in the last 10 years, and anxiety is rising among college students.
Inside Higher Ed reports that anxiety overtook depression as the top concern among college students seeking counseling in 2009. The latest survey of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, in which Whitworth participates, found that 51 percent of students visiting college counseling centers in 2015-16 reported anxiety – up from 41 percent five years earlier.
Whitlock says experts think this may be caused in part by economic uncertainty after the recession and by social media, which can lead to fewer interpersonal connections and increasing loneliness as well as stress from constant connectivity.
She says the issues Whitworth students seek counseling about are most often related to anxiety and depression, relationships and loneliness, and identity and faith.
"Students are often trying to work out their faith," Whitlock says. "By hiring therapists who live out their own faith in Christ, we can engage with students when they're ready to go there."
Whitlock says counseling is a necessary part of education. "It helps students remain in school and address some of the barriers that keep them from learning," she says. "If something is stirred up in their soul, this is a place where we can process that piece of their lives. Counseling is part of an integrated, holistic education."
Web extra: Visit whitworth.edu/counselingcenter for more information on the services the Whitworth Counseling Center offers.