By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Bridget Langin was all smiles as she walked across the stage during winter commencement at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The event marked a major milestone for the 23-year-old, one she likely wouldn’t have reached without assistance from UNK’s counseling services.
Langin, who graduated summa cum laude with degrees in elementary and early childhood education, was in a completely different mental state nearly two years ago following a motor vehicle accident that killed two people, including her friend and fellow UNK student Amber Frerichs.
“It was pretty terrible,” said Langin, one of six people inside the pickup during the February 2017 rollover along a rural Buffalo County road.
UNK counselors were there to support students during an on-campus vigil honoring Frerichs, but it took some time before Langin reached out for help.
“Once I took that leap of faith I felt like I never really looked back,” she said. “After my first session I knew I was in the right place. That’s what I needed to be successful with school, work and everyday life.”
Langin, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, met regularly with Kiphany Hof and other professionals from UNK Student Health and Counseling as she learned to cope with the flashbacks, anxiety and overwhelming sadness.
“I went through a lot throughout my counseling process,” she said.
The experience wasn’t embarrassing or uncomfortable, the Imperial native said. It was a way to become more self-aware while gaining the skills needed to overcome personal obstacles.
UNK’s counseling services are utilized more often than you might think.
Nearly 400 clients made close to 1,000 visits during the first four months of the academic year – a roughly 40 percent increase in total sessions compared to the same period in 2017.
“Right now, we’re in a national mental health crisis for this age and this population,” said Hof, associate director of counseling at UNK. “Not only are more students seeking our services, the intensity of their problems is much greater than we’ve seen in the past.”
Multiple factors contribute to the growing need.
More students are arriving on college campuses with previously diagnosed mental health problems, according to Hof, who noted a significant jump in anxiety disorders.
College can be a stressful time, with academic, financial and social pressures weighing heavily on some students. Research also shows a link between social media use and increased anxiety and depression.
The downside of social media is it can prevent people from developing meaningful relationships and spread negativity. It’s nice to have a lot of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, Hof said, but it’s still important to communicate with people one-on-one and connect in a fulfilling way.
“We know anxiety is a lot about the what-ifs, so they’re spending a lot of time worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet,” said Hof, adding that social media can exacerbate this feeling when people start comparing their lives to others.
UNK counseling’s role is to work with students while developing a plan to manage their symptoms and improve their mental well-being.
To be successful, students must commit to their sessions and the recommendations they receive, according to Wendy Schardt, director of Student Health and Counseling at UNK.
“There is no drive-through counseling,” Schardt said. “It has to be something you really work at.”
Short-term counseling services are also available for students who need someone to talk to after a rough week, breakup or personal conflict.
In addition to Hof and Schardt, the UNK counseling center has three licensed mental health counselors, plus a part-time position starting this month. The center is also a training clinic for graduate-level interns from UNK’s counseling and school psychology program and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Grace Abbott School of Social Work.
Student Health and Counseling works hand in hand with other offices on campus – including Disability Services for Students, the Learning Commons and First Year Program – and reaches out to students through classes, fraternities and sororities and other organizations.
Hof said the ultimate goal is to support students and help them succeed at UNK.
For Langin, UNK’s counseling services helped her close one chapter of her life and begin another.
She’ll finish student teaching later this month then transition into a full-time position with the same Houston, Texas, school district.
“I tell Kiphany all the time I really don’t think I’d be where I am today without going to her,” Langin said.
UNK COUNSELING SERVICES
- UNK Student Health and Counseling provides a range of professional mental health services, including personal, group and substance abuse counseling, crisis intervention, outreach programming and consultation. Group counseling is currently offered for sexual trauma survivors.
- Students enrolled in seven or more credit hours can schedule up to three counseling sessions per semester, beyond the initial appointment, at no cost. Additional sessions are $10 each.
- Students enrolled in fewer than seven credit hours are eligible for counseling services by paying the $98 Student Health and Counseling fee.
- Counseling services are available by appointment only unless there’s an immediate threat to someone’s safety. Call 308-865-8248 or visit the counseling center in the Memorial Student Affairs Building Room 144 to schedule an appointment.
- UNK counselors are qualified to conduct substance abuse evaluations and diversion assessments, and court-approved alcohol education classes are available several times throughout the school year. These services are offered for a fee.