Some students say mental health resources lag at UMN coordinate campuses

Student-leaders presented their concerns about resources to the Board of Regents last month.

Boynton Health Chief Medical Officer Gary Christenson gives an update on student mental health to the Board of Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee at the McNamara Alumni Center on Feb. 10, 2017.

Carter Jones

Boynton Health Chief Medical Officer Gary Christenson gives an update on student mental health to the Board of Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee at the McNamara Alumni Center on Feb. 10, 2017.

Olivia Johnson

Olivia Krenz, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota- Duluth, tries to see the same on-campus mental health counselor every week.

Krenz, who struggles with depression and anxiety, has used Duluth’s mental health services since her freshman year. She said the stress of classes, loans and past hardships make regular counseling appointments necessary.

“I really don’t know that I would still be in college without it,” Krenz said. “It’s been a lifesaver.”

Although she prefers weekly counseling sessions, Krenz said she often has to wait two weeks because the Duluth campus’ counseling services are booked.

Some of her friends stopped using the school’s services and have found counselors off-campus that they can see more frequently, she said.

“If there was more people, I feel like I would be feeling better,” she said. “If I’m going through a really rough time, I want to go in every week. That’s going to get me through the week.”

While increased mental resources on the Twin Cities campus have resulted in drastically reduced wait times and waitlists, some on the University’s coordinate campuses say they’ve been excluded from the additional resources, even as they continue to experience increased demand.

At the University’s Twin Cities campus, funding for six mental health counselors was approved last year after a push by students increased.

The funding led to a one to more 1,222 ratio of full-time equivalent counselors to students.

But, except Morris, all of the other coordinate campuses have ratios that are higher than the Twin Cities. Rochester has no dedicated counselor, Crookston’s ratio is one to more than 3,500 and Duluth’s is one for every 2,754 students. 

The recommended ratio is one full-time counselor to every 1,000 to 1,500 students, according to the International Association of Counseling Services.

“I think that, in terms of funding, system campuses are definitely neglected,” said Mckenzie Dice, the Morris campus’ student representative to the Board of Regents.

Though Morris has one counselor for every 885 students, she said the campus saw an increase in students using mental health resources.

The campus employs two full-time counselors and two who split their time between administrative work and counseling. One counselor was hired this semester and helped reduce wait times from three to four weeks to three to four days, Dice said.

A mental health presentation at a February Board of Regents committee meeting featured the Twin Cities’ campus and Boynton Health’s progress but it also highlighted a lack of funding at the system’s other campuses.

While the Twin Cities campus experienced success, Lauren Mitchell, chair of the student representatives to the board questioned funding levels for mental health services at coordinate campuses at the meeting.

“My understanding is that … a similar amount of money that was spent here would go a long way towards resolving their problems,” Mitchell said. “System campuses often get forgotten.”

She said she reached out to staff and representatives from the Morris, Crookston, Duluth and Rochester campuses and found that they don’t have the resources to meet student requests.

“We need to expand this to our affiliate campuses,” said board chair Dean Johnson. “It’s a University system and all students ought to have the same opportunity for mental health care.”

He said he feels like the University is improving its mental health services for students and said regents asked chancellors of each campus to submit their specific needs for funding in the next budget cycle

Coordinated campuses strained

Tim Menard, director of counseling services at the Crookston campus, is the only full-time counselor for nearly 2,700 students and recently filled out a request to fund an assistant counselor.

Between September 2016 and January, Menard said the campus saw a 40 percent increase in requests for appointments from the year before.

He said Crookston can only provide short-term mental health services before referring clients to outside providers.

Though he recently submitted a request for a recurring $24,000 to hire another counselor, other services at Crookston have needs and are requesting additional funding, too.

Gary Christenson, chief medical officer at Boynton Health and co-chair of the University’s Faculty Consultative Committee mental health task force, was one of the presenters of the mental health update at the last regents meeting in February.

While Christenson said he is aware of the challenges at other campuses, he said his role is to oversee health services only at Boynton and has been isolated from conversations not concerning the Twin Cities.

“The Twin Cities campus is fortunate to be in the midst of a large urban area that has rich mental health services,” he said. “I can imagine where there are even additional challenges and potential barriers to getting care [at other campuses].”

At UMD, according to the SSCC memo, 34 percent of students have been diagnosed with at least one mental illness, compared to less than 33 percent of students in their lifetime at the Twin Cities campus, according to Boynton’s 2015 student health survey.

Student appointments increased 50 percent at Duluth in the last 10 years, while the campus has only seen its enrollment increase 3 percent according to a January Student Senate Consultative Committee memo.

“Simply put, it’s not great,” said Mike Kenyanya, a management information sciences sophomore and Duluth’s student representative to the regents.

He said there was a feeling that once regents addressed the Twin Cities mental health issues, the coordinate campuses would get funding for more counselors or services.

“Well, [they] addressed it on one campus. The system has five.”

Lauren Anderson, a pre-med sophomore at the University’s Rochester campus and a student representative to the regents, said Rochester doesn’t employ any on-campus mental health counselors for its 435 students and refers them to outside sources.

Since the campus is so small, she said money can’t be reallocated from other sources to a counseling position because most departments are made up of just one faculty member.

“I think students and administration are frustrated because we have been asking with lots of data,” Anderson said. “That hasn’t seemed to be heard as well as we wish.”

She said Rochester has been asking for increased support from the Regents since 2015 but hasn’t seen any.

“I understand that we shouldn’t be getting nearly as much money as the Twin Cities because of student population, but even if it was distributed just based on student population, we wouldn’t all be getting [ as much as the Twin Cities],” she said. “That is what leaves me dumbfounded.”

Regent Thomas Anderson said last month’s mental health update shows progress but still doesn’t get to the root of the rise in mental illnesses.

“It’s a very elusive subject,” Anderson said. “I believe it’s something we have to get our hands around and have to help the students deal with.”

He said he wasn’t aware of the specific mental health issues on coordinate campuses but the regents will take steps to solve their problems.

“I think mental health statistics on college campuses in general and in young people in general are alarming,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the ratio of full-time equivalent counselors to students on the Twin Cities campus. The ratio is one for every 1,222 students.