Mason is the only university in Virginia with a crisis hotline that provides 24/7 counseling support for students.
The hotline, first offered by Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education and Services office in 1998 and provides students with support in coping with alcohol and drug concerns, sexual violence incidences and other areas of critical concern.
“The hotline serves as a valuable, unique resource for students; it is so helpful for troubled students who feel that they have no one to turn to after a sexual assault incident has occurred.” said Mary Ann Sprouse, director of WAVES.
According to Sprouse, the hotline is available to those have difficulty in finding someone to speak with after any incidents occur, while also helping students with more extreme cases maintain their confidentiality.
“It is sometimes hard for victims to talk with others about their incident to people they know, such as friends or family members,” Sprouse said. “The hotline offers victims an outlet for victims to confide in, on a comfortable and personal level. Totally confidential.
While being a reliable resource for students to use, the hotline does have certain logistical difficulties.
“Mason is the only university to offer a 24-hour hotline on campus, probably because it not an easy resource to maintain,” Sprouse said.
According to Sprouse, the staff must be well equipped on a professional and supportive level to handle the variety of calls they receive.
“In order to provide callers with a helpful and meaningful conversation, one that will help them cope with their situation, our staff is trained for thirty hours before they can take their first call,” Sprouse said.
According to Sprouse, many callers are reporting after the fact. This does not mean, however, that all callers are reporting an incident that occurred the night before, or even the week before. The hotline receives calls reporting cases that happened months or even a year prior.
‘The cases that occurred more recently and the cases that occurred some time in the past each have unique challenges when coping, and all victims need to feel like they can talk about it,” said Sprouse.
According to Sprouse, the hotline receives on average 10 to 12 calls per week at the height of the semester.
“While this number may surprise some, it is considered normal. It is better to receive a call from a victim rather than have the victim remain silent about their incident. Choosing not to talk about an…incident often leads to anxiety and depression,” Sprouse said.
Victims with these symptoms, however, can visit the Counseling and Psychological Services office on campus. Similar to WAVES, the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides counseling on both the individual group level. The CAPS office offers a staff of professional counselors and clinical psychologists for students to utilize as an on-campus resource.
Dr. Barbara Meehan, executive director of CAPS, said that the crisis hotline is a primary factor in reducing the risks associated with mental health concerns.
“We know that asking for help can be very difficult and the window of time during which a student is ready to seek help can be very short,” Meehan said.
Meehan said how critical it is for students to have immediate and free access to a trained professional who can offer the level of support needed to decrease emotional distress.
“At Mason, we are committee to ensuring such access so that any student who has made the important decision to seek help does not face any barriers to receiving that help,” Meehan said.
Illustration by Laura Baker