Naval Academy counseling center sees increase in caseload, on par with national trend

Plebes and their Midshipmen instructors line up for the noon meal formation in front of Bancroft Hall in 2010.

The Naval Academy's counseling center has had a growing increase in its caseload, reflecting the national trend of millennials utilizing mental health resources on college campuses.

The Midshipmen Development Center is the equivalent to a college's counseling center. The seven-person staff — consisting of clinical psychologists, an eating disorders specialist and a social worker— give psychological and nutritional consultation to midshipmen.


The center is nonmedical, meaning it doesn't prescribe medication to midshipmen.

During the academic year 2015-16, the center had about a 23 percent increase in total caseload over the previous year. Specifically, there was about a 21 percent increase in mental health counseling in 2015-16, according to numbers provided by the academy.


"It's part of a clear national trend that an increasing number of college students are seeking help," said Capt. John Ralph, the director of the center and a clinical psychologist. "We're right there with everyone else."

The Wall Street Journal reported in October that Ohio State University has had a 43 percent increase in the past five years in the number of students being treated at the college's counseling center.

The University of Central Florida in Orlando has had a 12 percent increase in the past 10 years, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has had a 36 percent increase in demand for counseling services in the past seven years, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The American College Health Association released a new study in the spring and reported that 13.9 percent of college students were diagnosed with or treated for depression in the previous year. About 17 percent of students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems.

This comes as an increase from the organization's 2011 survey, in which it reported an 11.6 percent figure for anxiety and 10.7 percent for depression.

Ralph said this increase can be interpreted in several ways. He described this generation of college students as "stressed out," with high expectations set for millennials. One of the biggest factors, he said, is that mental illness is becoming less stigmatized.

"This generation is a lot more willing to come in and talk about their problems," he said. "That has to be a big part of it. It's a more viable option than my generation considered it to be."

The military has struggled with the stigma of mental health, but that "doesn't appear to be the case" at the Naval Academy, Ralph said. He said the increase in services is a result of people not avoiding or being afraid of any struggles they might face.


The center found that the most common issue clients sought help for in 2015-16 was adjustment, Ralph said. Relationship issues, anxiety and depression, trauma, and eating disorders rounded out the top five issues.

While adjustment disorder is a medical condition, Ralph said, it's not often diagnosed at the academy. In the context of the academy, students find it difficult to adjust to the physical and academic workload, he said.

It's become common for the psychologists to help midshipmen who find themselves struggling for their first time in their lives. The stereotypical case is when students who were high-achieving in high school begin to have difficulty with academics, Ralph said.

In the past year, the academy has emphasized resilience training to help mids deal with failure, Commandant Col. Stephen Liszewski said at the Board of Visitors meeting in early December. The academy defines resilience as the "ability to withstand, recover and grow in the face of challenges, demands and adversity."

Midshipman 1st Class Katherine Kinnear, the brigade resilience officer, said she's seen midshipmen become more comfortable seeking help for mental health. In her role, Kinnear helps with mental health outreach and trains companies about the resources that are available on the yard.

Changing the stigma takes time, Kinnear said, but she's found that midshipmen are interested in bettering themselves and helping those around them. She helps train mids about how to approach peers who might need the Midshipman Development Center's services.


"The fact that we look at everything in the scope of leadership makes people more comfortable," she said, "they can offer help to those they work with."

The academy wants midshipmen to be comfortable with overcoming failure and be "strengthened by setbacks," Ralph said. To help the midshipmen become more resilient, the Midshipman Development Center has been stressing the importance of sleep.

The center worked with academy officials to adjust the battle rhythm, the academy's schedule, in order for midshipmen to get more sleep, Ralph said. The center is now doing more outreach to the brigade about how sleeping less in order to do more work isn't always beneficial.

Ralph said it's common for midshipmen to sacrifice sleep for studying, yet this could make them continue to struggle both physically and academically.

"Sometimes the way to do better is to take your foot off the gas," he said.