Limited Mental Health Counseling Isn’t Just BYU Problem
PROVO, Utah — Shane Frazier, 23, said college students are under a lot of pressure. He’s felt it personally. Two years ago he was having suicidal thoughts.
He turned to BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services center.
“Asking for help when you are in that position of vulnerability, when you’re depressed or struggling with suicidal thoughts is actually really, really hard,” Frazier admitted.
To his dismay, however, he was told he would have to wait two months before he see a therapist.
“I know that the counseling services are doing the best that they can,” he said.
Frazier said he was desperate.
“Kind of this last dire effort of, ‘I’m in this really, really difficult position and I need help,’ and being told, ‘We are not able to see you right now. Come back in two months,’ was kind of a punch in the stomach a little bit,” Frazier explained.
But it turns out, BYU actually has more counselors per student than any other school in the state with 29 therapists. They also are the only school to exceed the International Association of Counseling Services’ federal recommendations, which suggest about one therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.
Utah Valley University, Utah’s largest university, with nearly 40,000 students only has 10 therapists, increasing the ratio to one therapist for every 4,000 students, according to WilliamErb, UVU’s Director of Student Health Services.
In order to achieve the national guidelines, Erb said they would need to hire 16 additional therapists and offices to house them. He said discussions to accommodate new therapists are underway.
The University of Utah is also below the national recommendation. Mental Health Director Dr. Lauren Weitzman recognizes it as a problem.
“I mean, it’s a very serious issue,” she said.
Weitzman said the University of Utah needs more state funding. She hopes for at least five more counselors and more office space. As of this year, they are charging each student a $4 mental health fee along with their typical fees, but she says it’s not enough.
“Students can be standing two or three deep, you know, just getting ready to check in for their appointment,” Weitzman described.
Weitzman said that while she appreciates the fact that students are willing to augment the university’s budget she, “would like to think that might be something the state and the institution could provide for them.”
She said, “We just bump into the real reality of limited funds and resources.” In referring to the recent suicide on BYU’s campus this week, Weitzman said, “It’s unfortunate that with events like this, people kind of recognize the limitations.”
She said she feels an urgency to meet increase the number of therapists available to students.
Dr. Tom Golightly, the assistant director of BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services center, said demands for therapy are increasing. He said this isn’t just a problem at BYU. He said this is a statewide issue.
“We hear those concerns, we share those concerns. We’d love to help as many as we can,” he expressed.
Golightly said a National Institute of Health survey showed 40 percent of college students are experiencing anxiety or depression. He said if 40 percent of BYU’s student population wanted counseling, they would need to hire 400 counselors working 40 hours a week, which isn’t feasible.
However, Golightly admits two months is too long for any students to wait for an appointment with a therapist.
He said they plan to hire more therapists, but are also relying on other means like group therapy, life skills workshops, and prevention efforts to mediate high demands. He said group therapy is shown to be just as effective as personal counseling.
He also acknowledged CAPS has plans to come up with innovative ideas to help students receive the treatment they need to be healthy, allowing for new clients.
“We’re trying to do something that helps get students in and out, so that we can keep moving flow through, as opposed to just taking and taking and taking until we’re full,” Golighty said.
Frazier decided to turn elsewhere for therapy once he was told he had to wait two months. However, after receiving help from a provider off campus, he eventually decided it was expensive and inconvenient.
He said, “I don’t have the money for this. You know, I’m a college student and have to pay for rent and different things like that.”
He also said going to BYU’s CAPS center would have been much more convenient since it’s free and is located on campus near his classes.
Frazier credits good family and friends for making it through.
“Just knowing that I was important to somebody in that moment made a big difference,” he expressed.
This week alone, Golightly says BYU’s counselors services have seen an additional 200 individuals on crisis visits. He said they always offer same-day appointments for students in crisis, although Frazier was unaware of those services.
Additionally, Golightly said the university offers online help and after-hours resources through BYU police.
“If it is absolutely urgent, we’re not going to turn you away if you are BYU student, and we’ll get you the help that you need in that, in that meantime,” Golightly said.
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