National News

Florida Universities Up Mental Health Budget

Florida’s 12 public universities have developed a two-year plan to increase the presence of police officers and mental health counselors on campus, according to Jacksonville.com. In fact, the public university system’s Board of Governors met in the week of Sep. 18, 2016, and they emphasized that the campus security and mental health services are among their top priorities.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, those 12 public universities proposed a budget request of about $14 million, to be used on hiring more campus police officers and mental health professionals: psychologist, counselors, psychiatric nurses, and prevention specialists.

Currently, eight out of the twelve universities do not meet staffing standards, according to Jacksonville.com; the inadequate staffing leads to wait lists, fewer counseling sessions, and the need for students to rely on off campus services, which are not covered by student health insurance.

As stated by PalmBeachPost.com, data collected since the Fall of 2008 show that the number of students seeking counselling services rose to 48 percent in the 2013-2014 academic year, and the counselling sessions increased to 67 percent in 2016.

“These students are suffering and we need to give them the tools to survive and thrive … and it appears we’re not doing that,” said Board of Governors member Darlene Jordan, according to the Miami Herald.

Two counselors noticed an increased amount of students needing treatment for mental health; both Ernesto Escoto, a licensed psychologist and director of the University of Florida’s counseling center, and Carlos Gomez, a licensed psychologist and director of Florida State University’s counseling center, noticed a “lack of resiliency” among university students, in comparison to previous generations, when it comes to coping with setbacks like a low grade, a relationship breakup or roommate problems. Another contributing factor to student’s “lack of resiliency” is the competitive environment in universities.

“A number of the students we see lack the resiliency skills necessary to bounce back from setbacks,” said Escoto, according to PalmBeachPost.com, “They have not failed much in life and now they get a ‘B’ or a ‘C’ in class and all hell breaks loose.”

Florida State University (FSU), a public state university, has a shortage of counselors. Gomez estimates that there is one mental health professional for every 1,900 students, according to PalmBeachPost.com. This is more than the 1,000 to 1,500 students per counselor ratio set up by the international association of counseling services.

To help resolve this issue the Florida State University counseling center created a “treatment coordinator” position, in order to help students who get free health care on campus, find and pay for off-campus services.

However, when Gomez started working on campus about two years ago, he said that students faced a five-week waiting period before being offered help. He observed that the staffing problems made it difficult to provide extended counseling services.

“What we can’t do is see every student who walks in our door for psychotherapy,” said Gomez, according to PalmBeachPost.com, “We are referring in record numbers out into the community.”

Similarly, University of Florida in Gainesville, another public university, refers students to an off-campus counselling service provided by the Alachua County that only requires a modest co-payment.

Compared to other Florida Universities, the Saint Leo University population is “fortunate that the university provides effective mental health counseling and prevention services, which are free to all students. The wait time for appointments is very short. Clients are seen immediately for an urgent concern, and are generally scheduled within a couple of days for all other appointments,” said Lawson Jolly, the Director of Counselling Services at Saint Leo University. “Additionally, counselors are available in the evenings and on the weekend in the case of an emergency or a crisis.”

There are three full-time therapists on campus, including Jolly, the director of counseling services. The other two full-time therapist are Krista Jones, the assistant director of counseling services, and Tiffany Nelson, the prevention counselor. Besides doing therapy, Nelson also organizes many of the prevention efforts on campus. Another member of the counselling service team is Machele Nutt, who is the senior coordinator and assists with scheduling.

Regarding the Florida public universities and the budget proposal, the request $14.5 million would be used to fund 137 positions spread across all 12 state universities. The money allocated would give these universities the opportunities to hire more psychologists, mental health counselors, psychiatric nurse practitioners, case managers, prevention specialists, and office staff.

Gomez and Escoto said that this funding would have a dramatic impact on their staffing challenges, according to PalmBeachPost.com.

“My hope is then that we won’t have a wait list anymore,” said Escoto, according to PalmBeachPost.com, “We will be able to provide care immediately to students and help them be successful in their studies and complete their education in a timely manner.”

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