Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the percent increase in crisis intake consultations at the Counseling Center, and the student to counselor ratio. The story has been updated to reflect accurate information.
Paige Eacret’s anxiety comes with chest pains, which make it feel like she’s having a heart attack.
She feels on edge about everything all the time, and isn’t able to stop herself from overthinking or worrying.
And once she came to Ball State, the pains got worse.
“It’s sometimes hard to get around because I can’t breathe very well, and I can’t focus during class,” Eacret said.
She has suffered from anxiety-related chest pains requiring medical treatment and therapy since late middle school. With a mother diagnosed with cancer and other siblings going to school, she said she never had the money to seek treatment.
After hearing of Ball State’s free counseling sessions and access to therapists who can prescribe medication, Eacret thought she would be able to get a hold on her anxiety and be successful in her education.
However, when Eacret tried to schedule an appointment in September, she was told there was about a month wait time. Now, there is a two-and-a-half week wait for regular appointments.
Colleges around the country are seeing an increase in students seeking treatment for mental health issues. Mental illness among college students is at an all-time high, according to the American Psychological Association.
Just last year, Ball State saw around a 13 percent increase in the Counseling Center’s crisis intake consultations and a 10 percent overall increase in appointments overall from 2013-14 to 2014-15, according to data from the Counseling Center.
In late fall of 2015, Joan Todd, the university’s spokesperson, said the Counseling Center had been operating understaffed, but were in the process of hiring. Just this spring, Todd said that the Counseling Center had filled all of their empty positions.
Recent research has shown that although the number of individuals suffering with mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety continue to rise in Indiana, the state has a severe shortage of psychiatrists.
A study done by Northeast Indiana Area Health Education Center (NEI-AHEC) and the Ball State Office of Institutional Diversity suggests Indiana has almost a quarter of a million individuals living with serious mental illness, with 55 to 60 percent of those adults not receiving counseling or treatment.
Jagdish Khubchandani, an assistant professor of community health education and the research analyst for the study, said so many people are not receiving help due to a lack of healthcare professionals and psychiatric resources.
“Indiana … is one of the lowest-spending states for public mental health services,” Khubchandani said. “The state does not give money to this area of health because they do not see the use. That amazes me because the amount of those suffering is so high, and the amount of professional psychiatrists are so low.”
Less than 500 psychiatrists have an Indiana license and an active practice location, according to the research article. The ratio of mental health providers to the state’s population is one of the lowest in the nation, with one full-time provider for more than 750 residents.
Lauren Baney, who worked as an intern for the research, said through her research she learned exactly how great the need for services are in Delaware County. In the county health rankings, Delaware County falls significantly below the state.
For every mental health worker in the county there are about 700 people, so Baney said it can be difficult for people to get the services they need.
Baney said the Counseling Center is the university’s greatest resource, but it is not always easy and timely to for students to receive services from the psychiatrists and counselors.
The Counseling Center is usually pretty booked, and about half of the students who go there are ones who just need to talk, she said.
“On the other hand, you have those serious cases where people need someone and they can’t get that help — that is an issue statewide that we are trying to point out through our research,” Baney said. “We need more people to be inspired and to want to do this as a profession. We need to get to the point where if someone needs the help now, they can get it.”
Currently, Ball State has about 21,000 undergraduates enrolled and only five therapists students can make appointments with, according to bsu.edu. However, there are 29 people able to meet with students. With around a 724 to one student to therapist ratio, the Counseling Center has been pushing for alternative means to help, such as group therapy and meditation sessions.
But for students like Eacret, alternatives aren’t always a comfortable choice, and they would rather see a professional. She said she was uncomfortable with an undergraduate student talking to her because of the closeness in age and said meditation just didn’t do much for her.
Annemarie Stockton, president of Alive, a suicide prevention and awareness group on campus, said seeking and receiving help is extremely important for students with mental health issues.
Without help, Stockton said students could drop out or do something detrimental to their health, like cutting and endangering their life. She also said students need to be aware of these issues.
“It’s something no one really talks about, or at least talks about openly and on a grand scale,” she said. “It’s not something that you chose. You wouldn’t go up to someone with diabetes and say, ‘Hey, get over it.’ And you wouldn’t not talk about it."
Eacret said she felt this impact. Her experiences with the center had deterred her from seeking help, which is a major issue Stockton is striving to eliminate.
“I know people who have gone to the Counseling Center and there’s a huge line to get in or they feel that they’re not made a priority or that their issues aren’t as important as other people as far as a risk goes,” Stockton said. “If the Counseling Center was more staffed like the Health Center was, there would be more immediate care for people who are having issues, and it would be more accessible, and I think people would be more willing to go.”
Although some students have had negative experiences with the Counseling Center, when Annie Burnett, a sophomore BFA acting major, sought help for depression, she said the Counseling Center was wonderful.
She said she did have to initially wait about three weeks for an appointment but once she got the treatment, it was beneficial. Burnett said she wishes people wouldn’t be so negative towards the center.
Cathy Whaley, NEI-AHEC Director and lead author of the report, said in a press release the state can overcome these issues by looking at ways to improve the Indiana healthcare workforce and the assessment of people’s health status.
“[NEI-AHEC] provides many training and education opportunities to students and community members across Indiana specially those who are interested in mental health professions,” Whaley said in the release. “The unmet mental health needs of Indiana citizens can easily be met with increased funding towards the issue, better policies and greater commitment for those who have mental health problems.”
By publishing the study, the NEI-AHEC and Ball State Office of Institutional Diversity are starting to move in the right direction, Baney said.
“We are moving in the right direction talking about mental illness and health because people are becoming more comfortable, aware and accepting,” Baney said. “I have had issues with mental health and I used to not want to tell anyone, but now I am open and talk about my counselor and I love it; it’s like a gift to me. If we start making a shift to looking at it like a gift instead of, ‘You have something wrong with you,’ we would break the stigma and possibly see major change within mental health statistics.”