Despite a growing need for community mental health services, the director of the University of Illinois Counseling Center says resources remain underfunded and understaffed.
“I think mental health services are everywhere underfunded,” said Center director Carla McCowan. “How many staff do you need before responding to requests?” What is this ideal place? No one knows, but we’re not here on our campus yet.
The University offers plenty of mental health and counseling services, but many students have complained that they are ineffective and inaccessible, and with the rise of COVID-19, the counseling center has been left with not enough licensed counselors to meet the needs of students on campus.
McCowan hopes to hire more counselors to help meet student demand. According to the International Accreditation of Counseling Services, the nationally accepted student / counselor ratio is 1,000 to 1,500: 1, excluding interns and interns, to best meet needs.
To meet the needs of the University’s 52,331 students, the counseling center would need at least 34 to 52 licensed counselors, and McCowan agrees that “… we really need to get closer to those 1,000: 1”.
However, the Center has only 32 licensed clinical advisers, a ratio of 1,635: 1.
“We are increasing the number of our integrated advisers. We are increasing, we are still increasing the number of counselors available on campus.
Integrated counselors are counselors who work directly with various colleges, such as engineering, liberal arts, and sciences, to provide students with resources specifically tailored to their needs. It also allows educational advisers to refer students directly to specific advisers rather than the counseling center as a whole, which increases the likelihood that the student will seek advice.
Overall, the counseling center offers many resources for students, including therapy and referrals for disability resources and educational services.
However, many students who attempt to use these services have had mixed reviews of their experiences. The biggest problem seems to be making an appointment to see a counselor. Same-day appointments are hard to get unless you call early in the morning, and the counseling center is experiencing a shortage of non-COVID-assisted staff.
McCowan said she wanted students to “just call” before drawing conclusions based on social media testimonials. If there is no appointment available when a student calls. The Center will attempt to put the student in contact with a counselor for an immediate telephone session if necessary.
According to a story reported earlier this year by CU-CitizenAccess, many students took to social media to voice their complaints. One such case was that of a student who posted on the UIUC subreddit that the counseling center turned her away in the middle of a mental health crisis because she had already visited them ago. six months.
It also prompted many other students to share their experiences. Some of them say they are suicidal and have been told to look elsewhere, while another mentions that they have been told to “hold out until the next semester” after their mother dies.
Among all the complaints, however, there were some glowing comments for the Center and its staff. Some called them “friendly”, but wanted the Center to hire more staff and make its services more accessible, while others expressed hope that the University would provide more resources in the future.
With this increasing demand for consulting services, funding is more important than ever. According to McCowan, almost all of the Counseling Center’s funding comes directly from tuition fees, at $ 44 per student per semester, for a total of about $ 3.9 million each year. However, this is not enough to hire the necessary staff and the Center hopes to increase this amount over the next year.
With the rise of COVID, students were expected to need counseling services more than ever; however, a total of 13,831 individual clinical appointments in 2018-19 increased to 12,308 in 2019-2020.
But McCowan said the main reason those numbers are dropping is that many students were home during the spring and fall semesters of 2020, and many students’ homes are outside of the State of Illinois.
“COVID was really a challenge for us because the students weren’t here, the students were in California, the students were in China, and frankly we had interstate jurisdiction issues with our license,” says McCowan. “Theoretically, we can’t really see a student who is not in the state of Illinois.”
However, COVID brought new outreach options to reach students, leading to an increase in the total number of people affected from 34,258 to 36,182. This included new online resources for out-of-state students, including the most important is an app called “My SSP” (Student Support Program), which allows students to connect with an advisor and schedule appointments online, even if they live out of state . from Illinois.
Despite all the negative reviews from students who were unable to secure appointments, the majority of students who did secure appointments reported positive experiences. According to an annual survey by the Counseling Center, “over 95% of clients said they called only once or twice before making their first appointment” in the spring of 2021, and “over 94% estimated that counseling had helped improve their well-being. to be.”
College students have some of the highest rates of mental illness of any age group, around 44% according to the Mayo Clinic Health System. Recently, US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a public health advisory stating that “Mental health issues in children, adolescents and young adults are real and widespread. But more importantly, they’re treatable and often preventable, ”and that“ symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic, ”among other growing concerns over the rise of COVID-19.
The Counseling Center takes all feedback from students to heart and constantly tries to improve to meet their needs. “We are not perfect, we know that. We are always trying to improve. McCowan said.
The counseling center is located in the Turner Student Services Building at 610 E. John St. in Champaign. Students can reach the Center by calling (217) 333-3704 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.