A Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism report revealed the University of Wisconsin System has not met several goals for mental health services.
The center found just eight UW System campuses met recommendations of a 2008 UW System report that called for one mental health provider for every 2,000 students. Only two of the eight universities – UW-Stevens Point and UW-Superior – met the higher international standard of one staffer for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.
The study also found many students wait two weeks or longer between their initial appointment and first counseling session. Counseling visits at UW’s University Health Services also increased by 10 percent last year.
UHS Executive Director Sarah Van Orman said mental health services are particularly important for young adults who may be experiencing mental health illnesses for the first time.
“I think they’ve portrayed an accurate picture of some of the challenges of mental health services and mental health needs of student populations right now,” Van Orman said. “What we’ve seen is the need for mental health services for young adults both on our campus and nationally.”
UHS Director of Mental Health Services Danielle Oakley added the report accurately portrayed the challenges counseling services face.
“We have done quite a bit with the resources we have, but it is still clear we are lacking in the resources for mental health services,” Oakley said. “Overall, we’re good stewards of the resources we have.”
UHS has attempted to alleviate these resource challenges through a variety of services, such as group therapy programs and new ways of communicating healthy choices to students, Oakley said.
She added more students are seeking counseling services for a variety of reasons, including a reduced stigma around mental health and an increased risk of stress and mental health illness for young adults.
Van Orman added young adults who are enrolled in college are more likely to seek mental health services than young adults who are not, showing universities may provide young adults with health services they may not otherwise have.
A lack of health insurance also poses challenges to students seeking mental health services, the report added, with 6 to 8 percent of UW students uninsured and another 30 to 40 percent without coverage in the Madison area. While UHS mental health services are free of charge to students – the tab is picked up through tuition fees – students can only access a certain number of appointments per year before being referred to outside professionals.
UW journalism professor Deborah Blum, whose investigative reporting class contributed to the center’s study, said she saw the study as a reality check.
“We ought to have more [services] and one of the reasons is because students are increasingly stressed,” Blum said. “But we don’t adequately supply good mental health services anywhere. It’s always been something we’ve struggled with culturally because young people have a harder problem with mental diseases.”
Van Orman said UHS will continue to work on the questions the report raised, including access to mental health services, case management and work with various student groups on campus.
“I don’t think there’s anything in there that’s particularly surprising to us,” Van Orman said. “So it’s certain that we’re continuing to work on all the things they talked about. … There’s nothing in there that surprises us or are challenges we weren’t aware of already.”