After an unprecedentedly busy fall, the Counseling Center has seen some order restored. Emergencies, hospitalizations and counseling sessions have dwindled, despite the spring semester's reputation for higher Counseling Center traffic.
In a November 6 article, the Orient reported that the volume of counseling sessions was up, the number of emergencies was high, and there had been more hospitalizations at that point in the year than ever before.
"I think what was surprising wasn't just the hospitalizations, it was the on-call emergencies," which brought an uncommon number of counselors to campus on weekends and evenings, said Director of the Counseling Service and Wellness Programs Bernie Hershberger.
"That was increased by about 50 percent—the number of on-call emergencies," Hershberger said. "The amount of counseling sessions [has] increased by about 20 percent" from what it had been in previous falls.
There have not been any hospitalizations this semester so far, while there were two in the fall, according to Hershberger.
Hershberger partly attributed the autumn rise in Counseling Center visitation to heightened stress regarding the bleak employment prospects in the recession-ridden market.
"I think that there's an increased amount of anxiety for students related to future plans and job markets," said Hershberger.
"We've seen a pretty significant increase in student engagement with our office," said Director of the Career Planning Center (CPC) Tim Diehl.
"Our one-on-one advising" this past fall was "up about 40 percent" from two years ago when the financial crisis began, said Diehl.
Attendance at CPC events has increased by 45 percent from two years ago, according to Diehl.
In addition to job-search jitters, Hershberger has also observed an increase in students who come to Bowdoin with preexisting mental illnesses or latent post-traumatic stress.
"We seem to be noticing, particularly in the fall, a higher number of students arriving on campus with a major mental illness that they've been recovering from or dealing with."
For some, the small size of the Bowdoin community can create the sense of a surrogate family, said Hershberger. Students who have experienced traumatic episodes in their childhood sometimes only feel safe enough to process these issues after leaving home.
"I think there are students coming in with post-traumatic stress, as well that they haven't really been able to reckon with" until they go to college, said Hershberger.
These factors may have contributed to the heightened use of the Counseling Center in the fall, but the drop-off in spring sessions, emergencies and hospitalizations was unexpected.
Hershberger said that he was "anticipating some sort of increase" in student use as the year continued. After all, the trends of past years indicate that by the end of the fall semester, the Center's work has only begun.
"We're always higher in the spring than we are in the fall," said Hershberger.
Currently, however, the number of emergencies is down.
"I'm guessing we had in the mid-20s for emergencies in the fall, and in the spring, I'm guessing we're probably under 10," said Hershberger.
Sunshine is a double-edged sword, according to Hershberger, when it comes to impacting mental health. While it may ease the seasonal affective woes of students depressed by darkness setting in at 4 p.m. during the winter, the increase in sunlight can also provoke manic episodes.
But "this spring this hasn't been a super big issue for us," said Hershberger of sun-induced episodes. Instead, it looks like the light at the end of the fall semester tunnel has only done the student body good.
"In the fall there's a diminished amount of light...in the spring the light starts to increase and that tends to make people feel better," said Hershberger.
The semester's not over yet, though, and Hershberger said he expects more Counseling Center visits "as people really hit the wall with their finals."
Despite the still-to-come visits from students overwhelmed by exams, Hershberger projected that the number of spring sessions will roughly equal those of the fall.
"Often we see more of our counseling sessions in the spring, but it looks like [the amount of sessions in each semester] are going to break about even."
"We're definitely going to be way under on our emergencies," he added.
Students seeking frequent sessions from the Center need not worry that they will be turned away.
"I do love right now that we don't have a set number or limit on our sessions," said Hershberger.
While some students schedule regular sessions, "our mode number of sessions is one," said Hershberger, noting that most people stop by for one-time assistance.
The pool of students who have visited the Center is "fairly evenly distributed right now between classes," said Hershberger. An even distribution is typical, though Hershberger noted that there are occasional two to three percentage point spikes in the sophomore and senior classes.
"The male-female distribution has been consistent for about 10 years," added Hershberger. It is "about two thirds female, one third males."
"Right now [the Center] seems to be working out to meet the needs of this disparate group of students," he said.