UC Irvine’s Counseling and Health Services Are Under-Funded
Three weeks ago, before midnight, a student was found with a gunshot wound to the head in the Social Science Building at UC Irvine. He had committed suicide. Two weeks ago was the Virginia Tech massacre. In the aftermath of recent tragic events, students at UCI wonder how safe our campus is and how psychologically healthy the students are. Is the Counseling and Health Center doing enough to make our campus psychologically healthy? What provisions are they making?
If the Health Center gets a distress call, where someone is either a danger to themselves, a danger to others or gravely disabled, then they can send a psychologist to mentally evaluate the person. However, psychologists do not have the capacity to attend distress calls beyond the working week hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For after-hour coverage, it is up to the on-campus police to handle distress calls. If the police officer feels that a mental health professional needs to be involved, they will call California’s Welfare and Institutions Code 5150, which mandates that the distressed person be sent to a clinician. Generally, the person would be sent to the UCI Medical Center where they can have psychiatric help at any time.
Students who are not sent to psychiatric help by law enforcement, may be in need of psychological support. How can they get support when the Counseling Center is closed? Currently UCI has no psychological counseling hotlines such as suicide prevention or sexual assault victim counseling. Students have to seek psychological support from sources outside of UCI.
For any student to find psychological assistance, they have to look up a service, generally via the Internet, or have someone else look it up for them. This may cause a problem for someone who is already in a vegetative state of depression and has no one around to notice that they are in dire need of psychological help. If a student was severely depressed and did not have a friend to help them get counseling it might be helpful if they were to see a poster for a counseling service phone number, or a sticker for a suicide prevention hotline.
At Pembroke College, in the University of Cambridge, England, as well as the University of Scotland, bathroom stalls have stickers and posters that list psychological assistance hotlines for students to call. Hotlines for students who are victims of sexual assault, for students who feel overanxious and depressed and even for female students that may be in need of birth control are on the bathroom stall walls. A bathroom stall is an intimate place for student to find information on how they can get help.
While the bathroom stalls at UCI often have notes posted for students who are looking for a roommate or are trying to sell their books, from personal observation there rarely are mental health awareness flyers or stickers. Why is this?
The apparent reason is that, like most college campuses in the United States, the Counseling and Health Services at UCI are under funded. Dr. Thomas Parham, the Assistant Vice Chancellor of the UCI Counseling and Health Services would fully support more marketing for psychological health awareness, including signs in bathrooms, if there were more funding. The Counseling and Health Services do not have the resources to afford more flyers and mental-health awareness signs.
It is hard enough for them to afford to pay for psychologists. The Counseling Center is understaffed with mental health professionals and its psychologists are overloaded with students. On average, each of the UCI psychologists has 609 more students than they are recommended to counsel according to the International Association of Counseling Services. However, according to the OC Register UCI is in the process of looking for two new counselors.
Unfortunately, students are only allowed a maximum of seven free one-on-one counseling sessions. This may not be enough for students who are in need of more sessions.
Fourth-year sociology major Cassandra Rush was a victim of sexual assault during her second year at UCI. Although she received assistance from the Counseling Center afterward, she said, ‘Seven sessions wasn’t enough. I felt kind of betrayed because I spilled my soul out to one psychologist and then they switched me over to another psychologist. I was already at a point where I didn’t trust anyone.’
Luckily for Rush, she could afford to see a professional psychologist outside of UC Irvine. However, some students in need of mental professional help are not so fortunate. Various health insurance companies do not cover psychological counseling and some students do not have the personal funding to afford it. Like Rush’s case, one of the most common reasons why students enter the counseling center is for cases of sexual assault. While there is a group for victims of sexual assault that meets throughout the school year which Rush recommends, group counseling is not always as helpful as a one-on-one.
More students are seeking counseling at UCI than in the past. The no. 1 reason students seek counseling is because of stress, including intense emotions and mood changes.
In Dr. Parham’s words, students live in an almost pathologically competitive society. Unlike students of previous generations that went through time periods of struggle, such as the Great Depression and the Cold War, where they were taught that hardship was a part of life, ‘Now we create this illusion that everything is OK. Students are not used to struggling,’ said Parham.
Not only has the number of suicides increased at college campuses nationally, but so has the number of suicides at UCI in the last decade. The two students who committed suicide within the last two years did not seek counseling or psychiactric help from UCI’s health services.
With the influx of students and the already lacking amount of resources, Counseling and Health Services is in dire need of funding.
Despite a lack of funding, the Health Education Center has worked hard to obtain grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which provide small grants for campuses to provide for suicide prevention groups. UCI was one of the 22 campuses in the nation to win a grant.
With the grant, the Health Education Center is promoting student health through ‘Project Courage.’ The project is designed to bring awareness to incidences of mental health and let people know what their resources are. Also, it is a social marketing campaign to help suicidal people think a second time before erasing their future.
The Web site for Project Courage, www.donteraseyourfuture.org, lists difficulties famous people such as Martin Luther King Jr., William Shakespeare and Marie Curie went through, with the message that the world would not be the same without them.
If a student is feeling anxious, depressed or violated, and is in need of psychological counseling they can call 949-824-6457 and set up an appointment with the UCI Counseling Center. If a student is feeling severely depressed and in need of psychological counseling outside of the available hours they can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).