Sandy: The UO Counseling Center’s lack of funding is a step backward from improving mental health in college

Mental health is a significant issue that is often stigmatized, concealed and rarely discussed on college campuses across the country.

Some of the most common issues for students are stress, academic concerns, depression and anxiety, according to the University of Oregon Counseling Center. If students are experiencing these problems, they may go to the Counseling Center’s website or call the front desk and begin the process of receiving counseling. However, the process itself can be discouraging and tedious.

A student must first call the front desk and ask to schedule a phone interview with a counselor. The interview may not take place until 24 hours after the initial phone call. Once the phone interview is finished, it is up to the counselor to determine what additional services may be necessary, and how immediate a student should be seen. If a follow-up appointment is approved, the student will be scheduled for an intake appointment, which can take up to two weeks. During the intake appointment a counselor determines the course of treatment. In some cases, this might be a referral to receive counseling at the university or somewhere else.

For students who are experiencing issues that require attention from a counselor, this process can be intimidating and discouraging. Multicultural Center co-director and ASUO presidential candidate Beatriz Gutierrez for the “Ducks Like You” campaign has made expanding counseling and accessibility services on campus part of the group’s platform.

“I have had a lot of conversations with students about what they want to see changed and expanding counseling services on campus keeps coming up,” Gutierrez said. “The online process for acquiring help from the counseling center has deterred many students from continuing on with the process, and that is a problem.”

UO Counseling Center Director and Senior Staff Psychologist, Shelly Kerr asserts that this process is incremental because the counseling center staff deal with a lot of students who come in with a wide range of issues. She also notes that while increased funding would be beneficial, it should not be a financial burden on the backs of students and parents.

Expanding resources for the counseling center is likely to require more funding. Despite the obvious need, the ASUO does not currently provide funding to the center — although Sen. Helena Schlegel notes that ASUO funding could be a possibility in the future.

“The ASUO could contract out services or trainings with a Counseling Center budget in Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee or Departments Finance Committee,” Schlegel said.

Outside of the Counseling Center there are other resources for students on campus. UO Active Minds is an organization that works to increase students’ awareness of mental health and connect students to resources both on campus and off. They strive to give students looking to receive counseling services options and support.

“The University Counseling and Testing Center provides essential services to all students on campus and is an integral component of our university experience,” UO Active Minds President Juan Rivera said. “It is there when we need someone to talk to, when we feel overwhelmed, and is still there, providing peace of mind, when we are doing just fine. The UCTC is doing the best job it possibly can with the funding it has.”

UO Active Minds is ASUO recognized but not ASUO funded. Its funding comes from fundraisers, donations and raffles. None of the staff are paid, and all funds raised are put toward events and providing resources to UO students.

Counseling Center Director Shelly Kerr notes that the counseling center is always going to benefit from more funding, and that with the UO enrollment numbers increasing, the Counseling Center has seen about a 30 percent increase in students seeking counseling.

College is a stressful time for students. Instead of sweeping mental health issues under the rug, perhaps we should talk more about them. Given that the ASUO seems able to provide funding for some fairly superfluous activities perhaps it ought to give some thought to making mental health services more accessible.

It is important to note that even when the Counseling Center is closed, there is always someone to talk to. “Students can call our phone line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and they will always be connected with a professional  counselor,” Kerr adds. “There is nothing a student can bring to us that is unimportant and not worth our time and energy. Just come and give us a chance to help you.”

Student leaders on campus are working to create accessibility and awareness for mental health on our campus. We may have a long way to go in removing the stigmas and barriers associated with recognizing and treating mental health, but it’s a start.

Follow Bayley Sandy on Twitter @BayleyJSandy

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Bayley Sandy

Bayley Sandy

Bayley is the Emerald's opinion editor. Her passion for opinion writing began when she won the "Why I am Proud to be an American" essay contest in the 8th grade. She is also a self-proclaimed Joe Biden enthusiast.