Should We Save Costs on University Mental Health Services?
Two years ago, Nick Petford, the vice chancellor of the University of Northampton in the UK discussed a current “imbalance” between school funds spent on support staff versus academic endeavors. Petford argued that students came to these universities to gain excellent educations, and the schools should stop putting so many of their financial resources towards other offered services, including mental health. But is this really a good idea?
A different picture of this issue is painted in the United States. At the University of Maryland, junior Grace Freund felt symptoms of depression within weeks of starting the semester. Having suffered from depression before, she was quick to seek help. Upon calling the counseling center, however, she learned that the center was too busy to even schedule an intake appointment for her. Unfortunately, occurrences like these are becoming the new norm. Many students are unable to gain immediate access to mental health services they need because the centers are now so overcrowded and understaffed.
In fact, according to the American College Counseling Association, 92% of campus counseling centers said last year that they were seeing a dramatic increase in the number of students seeking help, to the point of causing chronic staffing problems. Furthermore, the students are presenting symptoms of increasingly serious issues, and more students are beginning college while already on psychiatric medication. Despite the severity of the students’ problems, however, many are unable to get the mental health help they know they need because they cannot get appointments. In situations such as this, should we really consider cutting funding to these problems?
Reasons for these dramatic increases are vague and many. There has been a definite rise in students’ awareness of the existence of mental health services at their colleges, and this certainly plays a role in more students taking advantage of them. Since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, universities across the nation have advertised mental health services strongly to prevent and deal with similar college violence in the future. While a century ago only few students know about the help available to them, these centers are so well advertised now that almost everyone is aware.
But regardless of the exact causes behind the rise in students seeking medical attention for mental health issues, it is highly troubling that this increase is occurring the same time budgets are being cut for non-academic staff. With the high stress college students face, most will be unable to achieve their full academic potential if they are not mentally well. It is ridiculous to worry solely about academic purposes because the point of college is to prepare balanced and grounded individuals, not to create human encyclopedias.
Students who don’t feel they have help available to them may find themselves at an increased risk of suicide. Suicide is the second most common cause of death in people aged 15 to 24, and it is the one that is completely preventable. The suicide rates of US college students have tripled since the 1950s, with almost 7.5 out of every 100,000 students completing suicide each year. Studies show that inability to cope with mental health issues such as depression is often a deciding factor in a student’s decision to attempt suicide. Depression can be caused by high stress, something almost every college student experiences.
Even in the midst of budget cuts, university health services are necessary and should receive funding. Expanding the qualified staff in such services is the most efficient way to prevent a continued rise in student suicide, but smaller and inexpensive steps can be taken as well. Many universities have already begun training students and residential staff to notice symptoms of suicide risk and have provided tips and tools to allow almost anyone to help a person in need. Improvements in mental health support such as these can be the difference between life and death. They are an important, even if small, step towards ensuring that colleges do not focus solely on academics but also on the general well-being of its students.
Article by Charlott Vallon
Feature Image Source: Student Health Services Illinois State University