WCU counseling combats stress one student at a time

This story was co-written/produced with Jesse Pigeon

It is no secret that the end of the semester causes stress for students, but for many, the weeks before exams prove to be more challenging than exam week itself.

So, why exactly is the end of the semester so much more difficult to work through? The answers vary but some students feel it is a lack of overall preparedness on the professor’s part.

“A lot of professors are throwing out random assignments at the last minute,” said Rachel Jennings, a public relations major. “That doesn’t help when you’re an organized and planning person.” Jennings has had to give three presentations the week before exams, all in classes where she had no speeches all semester.

Other students, such as environmental science major Ethan Clark, feel that the problem is due to large workloads.

“I’m just now getting to projects that were given in November because of how much we have to do in all my classes,” said Clark. “Towards the beginning of college it was easier but my workload has gone up now that I’ve been here for a few years.”

Whatever the reason, students are not the only one who are feeling the stress of exam time.

Dr. Kimberly Gorman has been the head of Counseling and Psychological Services at WCU since 2013. Photo by Jesse Pigeon

The Counseling and Psychological Services Center, or CAPS, at Western Carolina University’s campus notices the increase in appointments as the semester goes on with a sudden rise towards the final month of school, resulting in the center having filled schedules and requests to see therapists.

“Last year we saw around 10 percent of the student population, which is a little over 1,000 students,” said Dr. Kimberly Gorman, director of psychological services. “Since then we’ve had a 29 percent increase in appointments. It has made scheduling a little difficult but it’s a good problem to have.”

Several students have visited CAPS since their establishment over forty years ago with the number growing to an all-time high in 2016.

“They do good work,” said Brittany Childers, a criminal justice major. “They give a lot of great tips and resources to help, even if it’s for someone you know and not you.” CAPS works with several fraternities and sororities on Western Carolina’s campus, which is how Childers was introduced to the program.

“Honestly, they might be the only reason I’m still here,” said one student who wished to remain anonymous. “I was thinking about dropping out before I started making weekly appointments with them. They’ll listen to any problem you have and check up on you to make sure that you are alright.”

Despite the good work that CAPS does for Western Carolina students, there is still a significant amount of students who have never even heard of the service.

“Up until you said something about them, I didn’t even know they existed,” said Pat Gruner, a broadcast major in his sixth year at Western. “I think everyone needs help gaining mental fortitude at times but there are so many organizations on campus that I think CAPS may have been buried.”

Plaques of all the employed psychologists at CAPS. Photo by Jesse Pigeon

Dr. Gorman agreed with the statement. “Often times students don’t think they need mental help until it becomes too much. So much is introduced to them when they first get to campus that I think CAPS gets lost in the overload of information.”

To combat the mass of information CAPS has taken to “intentional outreach.” The CAPS Cab, a free transportation service sponsored by Psychology Services, drives students to their destinations while making sure that their mental health and school year is going the way they would like.

“I think that the cab is one of the best ideas we’ve had,” said Meredith Willis, a mental health trainee and WCU alumna. “It shows students that we are still down-to-earth people and we aren’t going to pick your brain.”
Since the introduction of the CAPS cab in 2015 the service has seen an increase in awareness in the student body.

Regardless of how many students visit CAPS in a semester, Dr. Gorman understands the stress that college brings.

“Everyone deals with stress, but sometimes it can be a little too much for them. That is why we are here,” she said with a smile. “Because of our partners and student body we continue to do good work and to try to help everyone as best we can. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Below is an interview with Dr. Gorman discussing the alarming rise of psychological appointments for college students.