Counseling Services seeks to end the stigma of receiving mental health help

The 24/7 number to Counseling Services is 785-532-6927. (Dalton Wainscott | Collegian Media Group)

When Counseling Services moved from the Department of English and Counseling Services building to the basement of Lafene Health Center, concerns over appointment availability and a wait-list emerged for the primary mental health care provider on campus.

Kodee Walls, licensed psychologist and interim training director for Counseling Services, said delays in scheduling initial appointments stems from the short-term model used to maintain the quality of care and meet the needs of the students that serve them.

“As opposed to an absorption model, where you may work 40 hours a week, but you have 68 clients that you see, we have an inflow holding pattern where we do generally five or six sessions where people get their needs met in that time frame,” Walls said.

Although it may take a few weeks to have an initial appointment during Counseling Services’ busiest times of the year, after the initial appointment, appointments become regular for the student on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, Walls said.

Victor Valdez, senior in economics, said he was able to get an appointment scheduled quickly when he reached out last semester.

“I definitely had the idea that it was going to take about a month to get me in and I was nervous about setting it up because of the stigma around getting mental health counseling, but when I called, it wasn’t an emergency, but I was able to get scheduled for the next Monday, and it really didn’t take too much time,” Valdez said.

Walls and Counseling Services emphasizes that there is no hold or wait on getting appointments in situations of crisis. When someone without an appointment needs counseling services immediately, a “counselor on-duty,” who doesn’t have pre-scheduled appointments, steps in.

“It is unethical for us to have people who are in crisis and that we know are in crisis have to wait,” Walls said. “We try to make that clear over the phone, but sometimes people are not always sure if that’s what they are going through or it’s something they should just deal with because that is the message they have been getting their whole life. If people think, ‘I need help now,’ then don’t wait. Please come to us and we will help figure out what is going on.”

In these crisis situations, Walls said, the number one goal is to help the student by figuring out a solution with them.

“The person coming in will fill out a symptom assessment and on the assessment, we have a section about self-harm indicators which has questions related to suicidality and self-harming behaviors, so depending on how they respond to those, that could activate a suicide alert,” Walls said. “After we get back with the person, we’ll review confidentiality and its limits, and then we dive in pretty quickly about what’s going on.”

When evaluations and plans are made, Walls said other staff members connect to make sure decisions are not made in a vacuum.

“We will help figure out a safety plan, where we’ll see if this person needs to be evaluated for hospitalization, i.e.: can this person keep themselves safe, or are they in touch with reality enough that their decision making process is sound, or are there other factors that are going on that would make it hard for them to make the decision to keep themselves alive, essentially?” Walls said.

John Cancelada, senior in life sciences, said his perceived stigma surrounding his own mental health dissolved when he met with a counselor and was able to open up and speak on whatever he needed to.

“Just having someone there to kind of share what I was going through and help by pushing me one way or another as far as some decisions I was struggling with at the time — I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness,” Cancelada said. “In fact, there is strength in asking for help. It gave me coping mechanisms for when I was not only missing so much [class], but when I was having suicidal thoughts that weren’t emotionally triggered.”

In the aftermath of a suicide that involves a Kansas State student, Counseling Services embeds themselves with the Office of Student Life and goes to the student’s classes or organizations to provide a place to talk for the student’s peers who are effected.

“We won’t necessarily organize a group meeting unless an organization requests that specifically, but a lot of what we say is the validation of the loss and the acknowledgement of the grief,” Walls said. “Normalizing any reactions that could be happening is a big part of that. Sometimes we can get in our head, we can think, ‘There are things I should have done,’ and that line of thinking can lead to madness. So what matters after is that you had a relationship with that person and their death has impacted you.”

Counseling Services provides group therapy as well as workshops to develop the skills to manage personal mental health.

The 24/7 number for Counseling Services is 785-532-6927. Counseling Services provides both counseling by appointment as well as drop-in counseling.