By Tyler Short
Upon receiving a generous donation of $200,000 in 2013, Lewis & Clark College’s counseling center was able to improve and expand their services. However, these funds have been exhausted and problems are on the rise. Our country is experiencing a mental health crisis, as the prevalence of reported mental health issues continues to increase. With the lack of necessary funding, the school struggles to determine their course of action for the program.
According to LC’s 2016 Wellness Survey, approximately 36 percent of students reported being diagnosed or treated for a mental health condition and 16 percent reported that they seriously considered suicide, which is considerably higher than previous years. The college student experiences an array of emotions and opportunities, which can range from the joy of intellectual discovery to the stress of struggling with adversity. Pressures can intensify, become overwhelming and take a toll on our well-being. However, there is hope. As stated by John Hancock, LC’s Chief Psychologist and supervisor for the counseling center, there has been a 30 percent increase in the utilization of counseling services at colleges nationwide. The stigma of mental health is still prevalent, but it is also gradually fading as awareness of the severity of mental health issues increases. Proactive mental health services can address a wide variety of issues, relieve students of their mental burdens and help them work towards a healthy state of mind. Therefore, easy access to counseling services is crucial in combating mental health issues and maintaining the success of the student body.
One proposed solution mentioned at the Student Mental Health meeting is an overall reduction in the size of the counseling program. This could include the elimination of the walk-in clinic and reducing the number of complimentary counseling sessions and staff. Diminishing our mental health resources should not be considered a viable solution due to the detrimental effects it would have on students’ well-being. In a time when reported mental health issues are becoming more prevalent, our school’s services need to be improved, not weakened. These cutbacks would reduce the accessibility and efficiency of our mental health services. The counseling staff would be overworked and overwhelmed, increasing wait times and putting some student’s mental health issues on hold until the line moves up. This shortcoming is unacceptable, as mental health issues often require immediate attention.
Another option the school is considering is having students pay additional fees to compensate for the lack of funds. While this solution is superior to a weakened counseling program, it still has its drawbacks. When asked about the possibility of paying money for access to counseling services, students expressed concern over additional fees.
Grace Mark ’20, a student who uses the counseling services on a semi-regular basis, worries that added costs will be detrimental to the support students receive.
“Coming to a small college, we expect to feel supported and have ready access to aid,” Mark said. “Potential additional costs like these don’t make us feel supported, rather they add to the growing number of anxieties of being a student.” Our student body expects the college to represent progressive and socially liberal values, and this mindset must include sufficient counseling services.
The ideal way to sustain our mental health services should be a reallocation of funds, as there may be unnecessary spending elsewhere. This would save students from the burden of additional expenses, when we are already paying an incredibly high tuition, and allow the center to provide us with the support we need. Unfortunately, the troublesome lack of transparency with spending makes it difficult to determine which programs should re-allocate their funds. As is commonly suggested, funds could become available if LC spent less money on landscaping. Everything has a price and money is limited, so the difficulty of devoting more funds to the counseling service is understandable. However, it should be the college’s responsibility to step in and help if the center does not have the required finances.
We have a duty as students to vocalize our concerns on this issue since we are the ones who will feel the effects. While spending is ultimately the responsibility of the college, we also hold power in funding decisions. They are accountable for listening to what we deem important and meeting our expressed needs. By communicating our opinions to committees like the Student Health Advisory Board or even talking about it on campus, we can ignite beneficial and necessary change. Our mental health should be a priority, not a second-hand consideration.