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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, January 28, 2022
Mental health feature

Responding to increasing demand for counseling services over the past few years, UHS has hired four mental health professionals since 2010.

The well-being of a Badger: The state of mental health at UW-Madison

Each semester, a number of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison visit the Dean of Students Office to talk about withdrawing from the term for reasons related to mental health or substance abuse.

When The Daily Cardinal spoke to Assistant Dean of Students Tonya Schmidt in November, two students had decided that day to withdraw, putting their health above academics.

Schmidt said students come to her office unsure of how to seek help for mental health issues.

“I would say it’s probably, aside from alcohol, the biggest issue we help students deal with,” she said.

For the past few years, University Health Services Counseling and Consultation Services has dealt with anxiety and depression as the students’ biggest issues, according to UHS annual reports.

Almost 4,000 students visited UHS Counseling Services throughout the 2012-’13 academic year, a drop from the previous year’s 4,631 but near consistent with numbers from two years prior, according to the reports.

Counseling and Consultation Services director Danielle Oakley said though no one definitively knows why anxiety has overtaken depression as students’ number one mental affliction, experts cite a prediction unique to today’s college-age generation: Children may not automatically fare better than past generations.

Oakley also said students’ concerns over jobs or having to move back in with their parents after graduation are at play. Additionally, college can be a tough transition period.

“Students are moving away from communities where they have a lot of support in place and a lot of structure in place,” Oakley said.

A number of students also visit UHS with addiction disorders, including dependence on prescription drugs and painkillers or marijuana, according to UHS Executive Director Sarah Van Orman. Every day smokers can experience symptoms of depression or a lack of motivation.

Schmidt has also seen more students with eating disorders this semester, a problem she says is not necessarily a new one, but one that has garnered more attention at the Dean of Students office.

In 2012-’13, UHS allocated a quarter of its budget toward mental health, according to UHS reports. Each student pays $173.12 in segregated fees toward health services per semester.

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A total of four licensed mental health professionals joined clinical services since 2010 when 10 percent of students were dissatisfied with wait time to counseling appointments. Fees increased in 2012 by less than $3 per student to hire three additional mental health providers.

But last year only 7 percent of students who visited UHS mental health clinics felt they did not access initial services in a reasonable time, according to the 2012-’13 UHS Annual Reports.

According to Oakley, wait times can reach three or four weeks but are ideally under two weeks.

“In college mental health, it’s been a little bit of like running to keep up with the demand,” Van Orman said.

Each year students can privately see a counselor up to 10 times, with a four-year cap of 20 visits per student.

In the meantime, UHS offers unlimited group counseling sessions to students. Attendance at group services grew 17 percent in 2012-’13 after a 39 percent increase the year before.

Though UHS cannot provide long-term services, Oakley said it has three case managers who help students find mental health resources in the community and periodically check on the students.

Case managers assisted 406 students in 2012-’13, according to UHS reports.

Oakley said expansions in the past three years have provided non-traditional services in effective ways. The Let’s Talk and Behavioral Health programs have served groups of students who traditionally do not utilize UHS counseling services, including men, students of color and international students.

Alex Faris, Behavioral Health Services coordinator, said these types of students are more likely to use mental health services when they are offered in a medical setting.

Through the Behavioral Health Program, physicians refer students who exhibit symptoms of mental illness to mental health consultants. Faris said the physician also confers the trust of the student.

“Students are most likely to cite their medical provider as being the most credible source of information,” Farris said.

Since its January 2012 launch, the Behavioral Health program has expanded from 20 to 28 hours per week, and seeks further expansion, by partnering with New York University’s National College Depression Partnership.

Other universities such as Michigan State and Cornell University have called Faris to ask about the program, Faris said.

“People are looking to us in terms of how do you design a program, how do you implement a program [and] what are the impacts of the program,” he said.

In October, UHS launched a computerized training program for faculty and staff to learn about the symptoms of mental illness and how to constructively approach students about whom they are worried. Oakley said many faculty have already responded.

Moving forward, Oakley and Van Orman said UHS hopes to offer more services to stabilize students who have recently experienced acute stress, trauma or thoughts of suicide.

“There’s a lot of pleasure in a student who comes back and says, ‘Thank you, you saved my life,’” Oakley said.

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