What to expect in crisis counseling: Part IV

What to expect in crisis counseling: Part IV

Ren Gennerman, Copy Editor

With the increase in the need for mental health support, Winona State University has taken measures to address increasing student needs. However, many students, faculty and community members are calling these measures into question, asking if they are fully addressing the needs of students.

During the 2019 fall semester, Winona State experienced a counselor shortage due to the rising demand for mental health help from students. To mitigate the long hours for counselors and the growing waitlist for appointments, Winona State University hired Serena Bohn as a permanent counselor and Nancy Miller as an emergency short-term counselor. With these new counselors, interim director of Counseling Services Kateri Johnson hopes this decision will increase the opportunities for Winona State to help more students in a shorter amount of time.

In the past, the counseling office had more crisis questions than just the risk of harm or sexual assault, including if there had been a recent death of a loved one. However, according to Johnson, due to the high amount of walk-in appointments, the office had to reduce the number of questions.

“Last semester when we had four questions, we had a lot of walk-ins, Johnson said. “We can meet their immediate need, but to follow up and just becomes more difficult. When we took off two questions and focus more on suicidal or sexual assault, we still do have about three or four a week. For people experiencing those things, that’s quite a bit, and those are just the ones reaching out.”

If a student has a crisis outside of office business hours or on the weekends, Johnson recommends visiting an emergency room, like the one at Winona Health. However, due to recent cuts to the services Winona Health offers, this may look very different from what students expect.

“[The hospital process] has changed recently,” Johnson said. “Winona Health did close their inpatient behavioral health unit. So, unfortunately, it’s a little uncertain.”

According to a press release on September 10, 2019, Winona Health no longer has a dedicated psychiatric unit, but has instead integrated their mental health services into the general inpatient care. According to the Winona Post, this decision came a year after Winona Health elected to de-license their behavioral health unit, which previously allowed them to do 72-hour holds for people at risk of hurting themselves or others. Winona Health does offer therapy or counseling sessions and has counselors available to take appointments.

According to its website, Gundersen Urgent Care Winona off Highway 61 does not offer long or short-term mental health services.

For those who attend Winona State University but have insurance which only works in another state, their options are even more limited. There are mental health clinics in La Crosse, WI, however, many students must find transportation to and from those clinics if they do not have cars.

If students have insurance in Winona, there may still be a delay in care. According to Johnson, the Valley Mental Health Center is well-known, but has a lengthy waiting list. Other private practices in town report a shorter waiting list, often getting adults in within the week of making an appointment.

For students who are unwilling or unable to check themselves in to an emergency room or mental health clinic, there are limited options for those around them. Johnson says she occasionally sees friends try to call the counseling office and have counselors check on students. However, the counseling office does not offer that service. The closest thing to it would involve welfare checks through the police.

“As a friend helping another friend, you can’t make them come to counseling if you’re really worried about their, their safety,” Johnson said. “Extreme measure is, you know, calling the police for welfare check or contacting security.”

However, many in the mental health activism community have questioned the safety of welfare checks by police. After a particular case in Texas involving the death of Atatania Jefferson, a Black, 28-year-old woman, during a police welfare check, many people, especially African Americans, on Twitter requested to their friends and family that if they safety was ever questioned, they would not want police welfare checks. In a 2019 article from CNN, a Black teacher offered his feedback about the welfare check system.

Achmat Akkad, a mental health first aid teacher in New York, told CNN he’s experienced wellness checks himself.

“’Often officers respond as if the people they are checking on have done something wrong,’ Akkad said. ‘

Just their presence when you open your door, especially as a black male, that can be very frightening.’

For these Americans and others, it creates yet another layer of mistrust between law enforcement and the black community.”

For those who have requested no wellness checks, many students have asked that friends come over or for their families to be called.

According to Johnson, if a student does not want people to know about their mental health struggles but still need help, there are also options for them. Texting 741741 gets students in contact with a volunteer counselor who helps guide them through a crisis through text messaging.

“A lot of people have said really good things about that text line, and that’s 24 hours,” Johnson said. “I think is really important for people to be aware of, especially if they’re maybe not comfortable coming to counseling, which a lot of people aren’t.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Winona State University has cancelled many in-person services for the university, including all counseling. However, according to the university counseling website, the counseling team continues to work remotely on Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

“Beginning April 6, we’ll be offering counseling appointments via Zoom and Microsoft teams. You’ll be sent instructions and a meeting link prior to your scheduled appointment,” the counseling services website stated. “If you have any questions or want to schedule an appointment, please email [email protected] or call 507.457.5330. Counseling Services staff will respond within one business day.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, mental health concerns can skyrocket during a pandemic, especially for those most vulnerable to become infected with the disease, as well as doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The CDC recommends taking breaks from consuming news and social media, meditating, deep breathing, eating healthy and exercising, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and connecting with others through ways that follow the social distancing guidelines. They also say that if feelings of anxiety or depression persist and interfere with your day-to-day life, it may be time to seek online therapy.


The opinions expressed in this paper are not necessarily those of Winona State University, the Minnesota State Colleges and University system, or the Winona State University student body.