Health is a difficult word to define. The student-athletes who dutifully visit the fitness center only to subject themselves to fast food and binge drinking probably aren’t as healthy as they think.
So, too, with the mind. Our vast diet of great books and world-changing ideas may lead students to ignore the essential needs of their psychological well being, resulting in an increased demand for counseling.
Fortunately, the university’s counseling center has bolstered its roster to address mounting mental health issues on campus. In December, the university hired a new counselor, Vanessa Garcia.
“I was the only game in town for the last part of last semester, and that’s not fair to anybody,” Doug Scott, counselor at the UD counseling center, said. “It came to a point where I had a waiting list. No one likes that. You want to get people in as quickly as possible, but I couldn’t avoid it. Everybody agreed we needed to expand our services because of the demand.”
A female counselor is crucial. Many women do not feel comfortable sharing personal information with a male, no matter his qualifications or kindliness. Hiring a female counselor will make the counseling center more accessible for female students.
“I did have difficulty making an appointment,” a female student said in an email. “Although the counseling center offered to make new hours for me, it was important to me that I saw a woman, so I turned it down.”
Scott confirmed that this is a common sentiment.
“Some people just need to see a female therapist,” Scott said. “I understand — it’s only natural.”
Garcia, meanwhile, is well prepared to help UD students, Scott said.
“Vanessa is a good Catholic woman,” Scott said. “She is married with kids and a good role model. I think a lot of the females here would look up to somebody like that.”
Another factor may be the nature of the UD community. University students across the country suffer from staggering rates of depression and anxiety. At UD, there is a tendency to view ourselves more idealistically, but at the counseling center, a difficult truth is revealed: UD students are susceptible to the same mental health issues faced by students elsewhere.
“Last semester, the number one thing I saw — it was overwhelming — was anxiety,” Scott said. “Particularly, social anxiety.”
The counseling center hopes the new solidarity group, which meets on Wednesday afternoons in Cardinal Farrell Hall, will help students cope with social anxiety. Scott thinks dialogue between students is crucial.
“[Anxiety makes us] feel isolated, we isolate ourselves,” Scott said. “We feel people are judging us. None of it is true; it’s an illusion. But you don’t know that until you connect with somebody who has exactly the same problem. … There’s a way in which solidarity of our brokenness can be therapeutic. That’s what this group will offer.
“I am always so impressed and struck. Sometimes I tear up with clients at their desire and ability for authenticity. I think that’s the kind of person who wants a liberal arts education. They want to be authentic, to hang the masks outside the room. They ask deep questions about life because its that type of school.”
Unfortunately, the desire for authenticity may also induce and exacerbate social anxieties that less serious thinkers simply ignore. Any counselor working with UD students may find the anxiety borne of reading classical literature an insurmountable burden.
In Philosophy of the Human Person, UD Students read Plato’s “Symposium” and discuss it with their classmates. The dialogue takes place at an ancient Athenian drinking party where six speakers take turns delivering speeches in praise of the god Eros, explicating the divine nature of love and desire.
But all is not copacetic in Athens. The beautiful and well-ordered speeches are dramatically interrupted by Alcibiades, the dynamic and ambitious general of the Athenian army.
Alcibiades ruins the drinking party for the other characters: he is already drunk, too drunk to play by the rules of the “Symposium.” Instead, he gives a speech confessing his love for Socrates the person, and not an encomium for Eros the god.
To some, Alcibiades is manic, volatile beyond rehabilitation. He is lovesick. But he is also human in a way the other speakers are not. His speech attends to the demands of his heart. He is hopeless and inconsolable, as are the students of UD in their desperate attempts to unlock the mysteries of the great books they read.
UD’s reinvigoration of its counseling center may be an antidote for faculty and students’ obsessive quest for truth and wisdom. Hopefully, Garcia is up to the task.