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Brandeis Counseling Center experiences 120 percent increase in hospitalizations

The Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC) experienced a 120 percent increase in student hospitalizations in 2018 as compared to 2017, according to BCC Director Joy von Steiger. This increase is part of a general rise in student requests for the BCC’s services.

The BCC has also seen an 84 percent increase in initial assessments and a 47 percent increase in total appointments, comparing the use of the BCC from August to November in 2017 and 2018, according to Steiger.

“We get an increase every year, consistently since I’ve come here and that’s true across the country,” Steiger said. “I think it’s something like between a 10 and 20 percent increase in requests for services from year to year at most universities. So that’s pretty consistent.” However, Steiger noted that to have this big of a jump is unusual.

The reason for the increase in hospitalizations is unclear. “This is the 20 million dollar question,” Steiger said. Instability in the political situation, climate change, incidents of bias—for example, the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina in 2018—and the economy could all be contributing factors, said Steiger, especially on young people becoming independent.

Steiger also emphasized that this increase in the use of counseling services is not unique to Brandeis. “It’s a nationwide problem, and in fact it’s not just college [students], it’s also high school [students],” Steiger said.

Other colleges have also experienced increased demand. Boston College experienced a 25 percent increase in student demand for counseling services in 2016, causing the university to hire two new full-time staff members, according to their university newspaper. Boston University also increased their counseling staff in 2017, according to their university newspaper.

In 2017, the BCC also experienced an increased demand for resources, including a 90 percent increase in walk-ins and a 2,000 percent increase in use of the center’s after hours counseling line, according to an earlier report by The Brandeis Hoot. The center also faced complaints of long wait times by students. The BCC addressed the 2017 demand by hiring four new clinicians for the center, expanding BCC hours and increasing group therapy sessions.

Steiger spoke about improving the student experience at the BCC through student input. “We know that there are students who wish they had a different kind of experience when they came here,” she said. “We’d like to be able to work with students to make this environment more of what they’d like it to be. We do have a faculty advisory committee and a student advisory committee so I’m always happy to have students work with us,” she continued.

This year, the BCC has also hired four new part-time therapists and one located in the Department of Community Living in response to a larger incoming first-year class, President Ron Liebowitz mentioned in an interview with The Hoot.

To meet this year’s increase, the BCC hosts a Community Therapy Program aimed at reducing barriers to care by having therapists, social workers or psychologists located around Brandeis, such as in first-year residence halls and the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center, rather than only in the BCC. The BCC also hosts a campus connect program aimed at providing suicide prevention training.

“The idea of the Community Therapy Program was that it’s an opportunity for folks to get support in a less stigmatized environment,” Steiger said. “That’s to reduce barriers to care, and hopefully for students that wouldn’t ordinarily come to the BCC, they might go see a community therapist.”

Of students who visit the BCC, 10 percent think about suicide several days a week to nearly every day and seven percent of those students report that they intend to kill themselves, according to data distributed in the Campus Connect training and obtained by The Hoot. Most students visiting the BCC report symptoms of depression and anxiety, with 54 percent reporting moderate to extreme depressive symptoms and 54 percent reporting moderate to extreme anxiety symptoms.

Students go through an assessment process at the BCC to determine if they need to be hospitalized. The BCC evaluates students to try to determine if they are an imminent risk to themselves or others based on several factors, including whether a student is having passive or active suicidal thoughts, like making a plan and intending to carry out that plan, and if the student has exhibited suicidal behavior.

The BCC also looks at factors that increase or decrease a student’s risk for suicide.

“Things that decrease somebody’s risk of suicidal behavior if they’re having suicidal thoughts are things like support from friends and family and having things in the future that they might be looking forward to,” Steiger said. “Things that tend to increase somebody’s risk are things like having made prior suicide attempts, having somebody in their life who previously made a suicide attempt, a sudden change—like a life change that they’re really unprepared for that’s negative—and not having the support of friends or family.”

“So we sort of put all of those things together in the mix and then try and determine, in this moment, how much of a risk does this person represent,” she continued.

After a student is deemed an imminent risk, the BCC contacts the campus police, who call an ambulance to take the student to the McClain hospital in Belmont, MA. The BCC then daily communicates with the emergency room about the student and recommendations for further treatment.

To be taken away by ambulance, the BCC must use a section of Massachusetts law known as Section 12, titled, “Emergency restraint and hospitalization of persons posing risk of serious harm by reason of mental illness.”

“In Massachusetts, you can’t get into an ambulance unless there’s a Section 12, so in order for an ambulance to transport someone anywhere they have to have a paper that says that,” she said. “This is what Section 12 is, it’s a section of law. It’s a paper that says that the person’s at risk.”

She continued, “That piece of paper that we fill out to let them take the ambulance ride does not indicate anything about what happens once they are in the care of the emergency room.” When a student arrives at an emergency room, the hospital then becomes responsible for their treatment.

A student can come to the BCC themselves or can be brought in, most often by the Department of Community Living. From the time they meet with a BCC staff member until they leave Brandeis for the hospital, the student is with someone at all times. A member of the campus police will escort the student to the ambulance, after searching the student and checking their belongings for items they could use to hurt themselves or others.

The BCC notifies the Dean of Students Office, which communicates with academic services. Academic services will notify faculty that a student is in the hospital, without explaining the details of the student’s case.

The BCC makes appointments with students returning from the hospital, who can receive longer-term care at the BCC or with an off-campus psychiatrist or therapist. Most students elect to get treatment at the BCC, which has three psychiatrists and fourteen psychologists.

Sasha Skarboviychuk contributed to this report.

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