A Clear Message: Seek help if you’re stressed or depressed

With the recent suicide of a student at Norwich, the availability of counseling help and services at the university has suddenly risen on everyone’s radar.
But for some students, there is a social stigma associated with the Norwich Counseling Service, which can lead to people not talking about problems or seeking help during times of need. Other students say that the school doesn’t do enough to stress what kind of help is available when depression, stress or other issues strike.
“Counseling means you have problems; you have issues,” says Shaquile Adams ’14, Unit Marketing Manager for Sodexo and recent Norwich graduate with a degree in psychology. “We don’t like to let people know we have issues. We try to keep up with the Jones’.”

Some people do not like to talk about their issues in counseling because that may convey an image different from what they try to project. People, “work to carry a certain image and for most people that cannot be part of the image,” Adams said.
To those students in the military lifestyle, and especially for students who are seeking commissions, it is, “looked down upon to go to a Counseling Center,” agreed Samantha Thornton, 21, a junior majoring in criminal justice, from Key West, Fla.
“A lot of people feel like this is going on their record to have to go and see a counseling group, so they choose not to go,” Thornton said.
Some students also raise concerns that the Counseling Center is promoted infrequently and then only during their first year on campus.
“The first time I ever heard about the Counseling Center was freshman year during Rook Week, on one day, on one occasion and that was about it,” Thornton said.
“  It was kind of washed out with the Academic Achievement Center (AAC). So they talked about the Counseling Center, but they spent a good majority of the time talking about the AAC rather than talking about the Counseling Center,” Thornton said.
A civilian student, Kayla Mercer, 19, a sophomore nursing major from Newbury, Conn., says she didn’t recall much about her introduction to the Counseling Center “other than it was mentioned during freshman orientation and it was located somewhere in the library.”
Information about the Counseling Center and other similar services is announced to students during their freshman year. For Corps students it occurs during Rook Week and for civilians as part of orientation, according to Martha Mathis, Norwich dean of students.
“They told us there was a Counseling Center in the library and that it was free to use and we could use it whenever we needed it,” noted Auden Fortier, 18, a freshman majoring in construction management from Beaverton, Mich. “They didn’t make us go or anything, but if we wanted to we could go.”
The Norwich University Counseling and Psychological Services is located on the fourth floor of Kreitzberg Library, and has operating hours Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They also have an on-call counselor 24 hours a day, according to LTC William Passalacqua NU ’88, Assistant Commandant of Cadets.
The Director of the Counseling Center, Dr. Melvin Miller, did not want to provide comments for this story; however, information about the Counseling Center and its services is available on the Norwich website under campus life and services offered.
The Counseling Center also has a briefing for upperclassman leaders and resident advisors on what is available, its location, any changes in procedure, and the hours of operation, said Norwich University Champlain Rev. Bill Wick said. “They have an opportunity to verbally and visibly present themselves to our students.”
Norwich Counseling and Psychological Services offers, “individual and group counseling for students, faculty, and staff is available in a confidential setting,” according to Norwich.edu. “These services are conducted by a highly-trained staff of licensed professional psychologists and doctoral-level psychology interns.”
There are five qualified psychologists currently on staff headed by Miller, the center’s director.
“ We have talent over there in the Counseling Center. A significant amount of talent,” said Frank Vanecek, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Affairs.  “We have post doc and pre doc. There is high quality of people from around the whole country.”
But not everyone has a rosy view of the services. One student who had a bad experience with the Counseling Center during Rook week, when high stress situations arose, says he was concerned about its effectiveness. Kyle Vu, 19, a sophomore communications major, from San Jose, Calif., was responsible for bringing a rook to the Counseling Center for a session this August. Vu returned, “an hour later and he [the rook] was in a worse state,” Vu said. “Personally, I don’t know what the Counseling Center did to him.”
“ I was hoping the counseling service would calm him down, get him back on his feet,” Vu said.
The Counseling Center is not meant to give advice, but rather to be a place to talk and dig deep into personal issues. Some problems are deeply rooted and take time and professional help, Rev. Wick said.
“My understanding is, that the way the professionals are trained, they absorb, they listen, they help people evaluate their own lives and empower those people to make their own decision without moralizing,” Wick said.
“I would say that the support network that is available here trump-cards many schools,” Wick added. “On this campus there is potential for help. Be it professional, my office, the counseling office, coaches, or just friends.”
As University Chaplain, Wick is part of the counseling options. He offers office hours, but is available whenever he is needed, whether that is facilitating religious needs, advising students and staff, or just as someone to talk to.
“ I am not afraid to say that I think that’s wrong or right. I talk with a young person, they are under no obligation to come here, but if they come in and say, ‘Rev, what do you think?’ I am honored to do that,” Wick said.
“There are some that don’t want to come here because I have, in their eyes, some religious overtones,” Wick said. “Others would rather come here than go there [Counseling Center] because they would view that as secular with no input morally or ethically of what they should or shalt not do.”
Throughout a student’s time at Norwich many stressful moments can occur. The campus was shocked on Oct. 12, when Michael Dickinson, a senior who was on track for a commission in the United States Marine Corps, took his life. Emotions from this type of loss can vary from anger to sadness, but the way to get through them is by talking to someone, Wick said.
Suicide is unfortunately more common than imagined; many have experienced multiple occurrences and, “the loss of one to suicide, is one too many,” Passalacqua said.
Being able to discuss Dickinson’s death was something that the Norwich community offered immediately on the day of the event as well as offering continued support, Vanecek said.
Chaplain Wick, Dr. Melvin Miller and his staff from the Counseling Center, as well as additional clergymen, were on campus and available for those students and staff who chose to use the resources, Vanecek said.
While it’s a topic that most people avoid,, “suicide is a part of life that you can’t change,” said Adams. “You can always wish you saw the signs and always wish you did something different.”
Those connected to a suicide may never know why their loved ones chose that path, but coping mechanisms, promoting awareness, and support are available, Passalacqua said.
“ If you have a personal failure, address that failure. We’re not victims of our past. We can be victors of it,” Wick offered. “All of us have issues that we need to address. All of us have flaws that we cannot address on our own.” Sometimes, it takes a loss to realize the significance and importance of a support network, and in Wick’s view, Norwich University, with its family-oriented environment in the mountains of a small town in Vermont, is able to better than most to offer help.
In creating leaders it is important for Norwich to remember that people’s emotions are involved and that faculty, staff, and students are all part of the family for a common goal, Wick said.
“We work together as long as someone is getting the job done,” Wick said. “We are going to serve our people and make sure they get the help they need.”
Opportunities for students to relieve stress are not limited to counseling. There are favorite professors to talk to, advisors and a wide diversity of extracurricular activities, clubs and sports on campus. Being on a varsity sport, in a club, part of an on-campus organization is a way to, “get involved and get active early,” Adams said. “Take one and commit to it and really try it, and see where it goes.”
“Every club and every team is a family. Every unit is a family, every group on campus becomes a tight knit group,” Adams said. “Finding that group, and that support system is a huge part.”
Whatever the circumstance students should, “just talk and get it out,” Adams said. “It’s okay to make new friends and okay really put yourself out there. Try, you’re in college and this is the time to do it.”
“That’s one of the valuable things about being on a small campus, because people get to know you,” Passalacqua said. “You get to know them.”
“Because we are such a small community, I would recommend that any student who is struggling with issues to speak to their trusted adviser or faculty member, or coach, or assistant command, or sergeant major,” Passalacqua said.
Is there a lesson in the recent tragedy? For Rev. Wick, it’s not to “shut out those around you, who you are helping, because by and large they want the same privilege through help back in return,” Wick said.
Listening can be a powerful gesture and sometimes, “if they know someone is listening, just listening helps people,” Vanecek said, “to know somebody is listening on the other end.”
“There are people around us, professional or not professional, who care deeply,” Wick said. Find those individuals and quietly share with them what you are wrestling through so they can be the friends they want to be.”

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