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Report: Behavioral issues, counseling demand increase at ECU

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Holly West

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Failure is a fact of life, but it’s not one familiar to many of today’s college students. 

East Carolina University is starting a program to teach its students how to deal with the stresses of “adulting,” something they’re struggling with as evidenced by growing demand for counseling services and increased behavioral issues. 

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy presented the evidence in a report to the University Affairs Committee of ECU’s Board of Trustees in July. According to the report, there were a record number of student conduct, Title IX and general Dean of Students cases in the 2014-15 academic year, and the university saw a spike in demand for counseling services, disability support services and the university’s Behavioral Concerns and Care teams. 

The Center for Counseling and Student Development added two new counseling positions last year to accommodate the increased volume and complexity of cases. There has also been increased usage of narcotics, which are often used as a coping mechanism.

Hardy said ECU is not alone in this problem. College across the country are grappling with students who similarly lack coping skills, which affects their academic success.

The source of these issues isn’t known for sure, but Hardy said research suggests it has to do with not being exposed to failure during childhood.

“Students don't have an opportunity as much these days to manage failure, they don't experience it in certain ways as much so they don't know how to manage it when it happens,” she said. 

Technology, especially social media, also plays a part. Hardy said people see picture-perfect versions of their friends’ and acquaintances’ lives and assume theirs ought to follow the same path.

“There’s no real normalization about what success is,” she said. “Younger people think success is going from point A to point B without a lot of stuff in between, a straight shot.” 

The university started collecting data in spring 2015 to figure out how to address these issues. When students return in the fall, they will take a self-assessment about their own resiliency that asks questions like whether they are easily discouraged by failure, take pride in their accomplishments and have the ability to handle stress and overcome challenges.

Students will be offered cognitive-affective stress management training, which teaches them to reflect on their behaviors and change negative ones.

“What is the self-talk you’re having with yourself? Are you beating yourself up because you got a C?” Hardy said. “If you change the self-talk, you can then change the behavior that’s exhibited.” 

Students will also engage in training on mindfulness and relaxation to manage stress and depression.

These coping skills will not only help students make it to graduation, but they’ll be crucial in helping them become successful in whatever they choose to do after earning their degree, Hardy said.

ECU also plans to reach out to K-12 schools and community mental health agencies to figure out how to develop coping skills in kids early on.

“How do we talk with our feeders, the school systems, about how do we help students at a younger age develop coping skills, resiliency, so that continues to build, and when they get here, they’ll be a little better able to manage the challenges and the successes?” she said.

 

Contact Holly West at hwest@reflector.com or 252-329-9585.

 

By the numbers

East Carolina University has seen growing demand for counseling services, disability support services and cases reported to the Student Rights and Responsibilities offices, which handles student conduct issues.

Center for Counseling and Student Development

2013-14: 7,221 appointments, 1,763 clients

2014-15: 7,597 appointments, 2,094 clients

2015-16: 9,094 appointments, 2,184 clients *

Number of students registered with Disability Support Services 

2013-14: 667

2014-15: 714

2015-16: 790 *

Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities cases

2013-14: 2,329

2014-15: 3,447

2015-16: 1,930 *

 

* Not including summer sessions 

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