U mental health services eliminate wait times for some, decrease wait times for others

Boynton Health and Student Counseling Services hired extra counselors this year and updated their process after they were promised more funding.

by Layna Darling

After an increase in mental health specialists, wait times for mental health services at the University have been eliminated or significantly reduced.

Last year, the wait for mental health services was about two weeks, but sometimes stretched to four or six weeks in Student Counseling Services and Boynton Health.

Wait times for initial consultations were eliminated this year after school administrators made mental health their biggest priority by providing extra funding and counselor positions. Wait times for ongoing services were also reduced.

Between SCS and Boynton, six and a half new hires were brought on at the beginning of the semester to quell the lines, said Glenn Hirsch, director of SCS.

SCS has been able to offer same-day service for initial consultations for the last four years, but the wait for ongoing services was cut in half to a two to three week wait this semester.

Boynton eliminated its waitlist for an initial consultation for the first time. This is a drastic change from November 2015, when there were 72 students on the waitlist at its peak, according to a Boynton report.

“This is the first time in a long time we’ve gone without waitlists,” said Dave Golden, Boynton Health’s Director of Public Health and Communications.

In 2015, nearly 33 percent of University students reported a mental health diagnosis in their lifetime — up from about 25 percent in 2007, according to Boynton student health surveys.

There is an ongoing struggle to meet the mental health needs of University students, said Victoria Blakeborough, student adviser for campus mental health advocacy group Active Minds.

“The rate of students asking for resources is going up,” she said. “On some level this is positive because it means more students are seeking help.”

Reports from Boynton show this increase as well — 2,215 students used Boynton’s mental health services last fall, up about 6 percent from fall. In the fall of 2011, about 1,600 students were seen by Boynton.

Funding provides new counselors, reduces wait times

In February, a University committee on student mental health recommended eight full-time clinical mental health staff be added.

In June, after students raised concerns about a lack of funding for mental health resources in the University’s proposed operating budget, the Board of Regents approved a funding increase of nearly $300,000 for two years, as well as the new hires, for Boynton and SCS.

“Student mental health is a top public health issue across our system,” Kaler said in his June report to the board. “We will continue mental health access across our system campus.”

With the increased funding, Boynton Health and SCS were able to hire for six full-time and one part-time position. Most went to Boynton to meet student demands.

However, despite the new hires, Boynton is still operating at full capacity and hopes to hire an additional therapist, Golden said.

“We are able to, the best we can, meet the demand,” he said.

At the beginning of the semester, Boynton Health and SCS streamlined their new patient referral process.

The two centers created one form for students to fill out upon arrival so they don’t have to have report the same information twice.

Before, there were separate forms that students filled out with each group, but now the form is sent when SCS refers students to Boynton for any medication evaluations and when Boynton refers students to SCS for academic difficulties and career concerns.

Still, the process needs improvement, Hirsch said, because some students have had to fill out the form twice.

What else needs to be improved?

While many agree that the new process and reduced wait times at Boynton and SCS are a step in the right direction, some say more needs to be done.

Minnesota Student Association President Abeer Syedah said MSA hopes to continue the conversation surrounding mental health on campus and include topics like expectations between students and professors.

“I really, genuinely would love to see us have a more critical conversation about what mental health looks like between the students and the faculty,” Syedah said.

Blakeborough said she hopes the University continues to meet students’ needs while also de-stigmatizing and normalizing mental health.

“We need actual services, but we also need our University to be continually showing us that mental health is important and trying to work that into our development as students,” she said.

Golden and Hirsch both said they hope to work on prevention practices so they can address a problem before it becomes too big.

Golden said that with mental health there is no evidence showing a concrete way to prevent mental illness, but programs like de-stress and PAWS: Petting Away Worry and Stress can help relieve stress before it becomes unmanageable.