College Counseling Center Initiates 24-Hour Hotline
Issue   |   Tue, 12/09/2014 - 23:14

The college’s Counseling Center launched a 24-hour hotline in late October to make around-the-clock mental health service accessible to students.

Before the 24-hour hotline, students could access the Counseling Center for urgent care service, regular appointments and case management on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During all other hours, students needed to contact the on-call administrator or the college’s police to reach the emergency on-call counselor.

Now, students can dial the Counseling Center’s regular phone line to reach a licensed mental health professional during nights, weekends, holidays and any other non-business hours.

“When students access our extended after-hours service, they will speak to licensed mental health counselors who will assess the student’s level of concern, identify appropriate interventions to de-escalate the crisis, plan for safety and help the students get connected to resources that will help them long-term,” Director of the Counseling Center and Associate Dean of Students Jacqueline Alvarez wrote in an email interview.

While after-hours mental health counselors are not part of the in-house counseling service team, they are hired as partners and trained in the college’s on-call procedures.

In addition to being available around the clock, the 24-hour hotline expands accessibility to students because “many students may be uncomfortable seeking help from an Amherst administrator or police officer, and therefore will go without immediate help,” Alvarez said.

Furthermore, the after-hours counselors can coordinate with campus personnel and the Amherst counselor on call to provide immediate, on-the-ground assistance for emergency situations, such as hospitalizations or sexual assault.

“Callers will not only get immediate help, but will have the option of receiving follow-up support from Counseling Center staff the next business day so that help is ongoing rather than a one-time event,” Alvarez wrote.

Students can use the hotline regardless of severity of the crisis. According to Alvarez, the after-hours counselor can treat major crises, such as suicidal thoughts or crippling depression, or simply feelings of sadness or emotional pain.

According to Alvarez, the hotline has received about 25 calls during its first month.

“It is our hope that this service will increase students’ access to support and consultation,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez noted that Amherst leads by a wide margin in significant feelings of loneliness, helplessness and depression, compared to other U.S. colleges. In comparison to the nationwide average, Amherst students lead by 20 percent on feeling lonely, 9 percent on feeling hopeless, 9 percent on feeling overwhelmed and 6 percent on feeling too depressed to function, according to the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment.

“While this data is disheartening, it is also changeable,” Alvarez said.

Amherst is joining a number of other colleges and universities across the country, such as Smith, Wellesley, Reed, Oberlin and the University of California, Los Angeles, to provide after-hours care.

Data show that use of the Counseling Center’s in-house appointments and services increased to 29 percent from last year and more students, 74 percent, are willing to seek out professional help for a “problem that was really bothering them.”

Ultimately, the Center works to “inspire people to have hope,” Alvarez said.

The Counseling Center, according to Alvarez, will continue to “fight prejudice and discrimination” against receiving mental health care.