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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW students drive campus efforts to reform campus mental health response

UHS adjusts services to reflect needs of UW students amid mental health crisis
Audrey Thibert

CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of suicide and/or self harm. If you have are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self harm, dial 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. View options for mental health services on campus through University Health Services.

Therapy has been one of the most formative things in UW senior Leland Hermus’ life.

After his father died by suicide in 2020, Hermus sought professional help to address and work through his grief.


“Therapy was a huge part in helping me be the person that I am now,” Hermus said. “I just want students to get the opportunity they deserve because I feel like a lot of people are also dealing with similar issues.”

To ensure other students at the University of Wisconsin have the support they need, he launched a petition April 3 calling for improvements in the University Mental Health Services.

Currently, UW is feeling the effects of a national mental health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a decrease in mental health and an increase in demand for mental health resources and providers.

In 2021, 48% of college students reported moderate or severe psychological stress, 53% reported being lonely, and one in four had considered suicide, according to a study by the American College Health Association. A more recent Gallup study found over 40% of students currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program had considered dropping out in the past six months.

The substantial increases in distress, especially within younger populations, have garnered attention from students like Hermus who are concerned about themselves and their peers. In his petition, Hermus said UW “does not offer enough for the student body in terms of mental support” and cited long wait periods and counseling session limits that may drive students toward expensive or inaccessible services outside of University Health Services.

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Hermus said he wants to make clear his petition is not a condemnation of UHS’ services. Rather, it is a call to action for UHS to receive more support.

“It’s [about] getting more funding and getting more therapists because they themselves are exhausted,” Hermus said.

Hermus created his petition in the wake of a student death outside Smith Residence Hall March 27. Less than two weeks later, another UW student died at an off-campus home.

Director of UHS Mental Health Services Sarah Nolan said losing two students, publicly and in such a short amount of time, substantially impacted the community. Immediately after the deaths, UHS shifted some of its services to ensure students, even those who may not be likely to walk in for services, would still seek help, according to Nolan.

“We immediately sent staff counselors to the sites of the incidents so students who had either witnessed what happened or who were directly connected to or involved in the communities in which it happened could have direct service with someone,” Nolan said. “That was really impactful. We saw a lot of students come in.”

UHS also began offering more “Let’s Talk” programming, which are informal, confidential and free-of-charge consultations.

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Other student efforts on campus have echoed Hermus’ call to reform and reinforce mental health resources on campus. Student Council Representative Taryn Hanson said she and Associated Students of Madison Chair Ndemazea Fonkem were inspired by on-campus petitions like Hermus’ when they drafted and introduced legislation titled “Give Us A (Mental Health) Break” at an ASM meeting April 19.

In an email statement to The Badger Herald, Rep. Hanson said her goal is to force the university to take students’ mental health seriously so as to “never lose another student to this mental health crisis.”

“These deaths left a horrible impact on students because we feel so helpless and unsupported,” Rep. Hanson said. “Most students are struggling with their mental health, and many are unable to receive adequate professional help. I truly felt so deeply sad for the students who passed and know many others felt the same.”

The legislation calls on the Office of the Registrar, the Board of Regents and Faculty Senate to work with ASM to build a schedule that incorporates things that benefit student mental health, like wellness days.

It also calls for the next sessions of ASM and SSFC to review the financial situation at UHS and appropriate additional funding in the FY25 budget, Hanson said. Additionally, it asks the next session of ASM to create a subcommittee dedicated to Care Access and Efficacy on campus.

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These calls for change come amid a nationwide shortage of mental health providers, and UW is no exception to the trend of resources stretched too thin.

“We could always use more providers,” Nolan said. “The demand is there. And the more providers you have, the more diversity you have and the more opportunity there is for different kinds of therapists. I would always love to have more providers.”

According to Forbes, there was a shortage of mental health providers even before the pandemic with demand only rising during quarantine. This led to high levels of burnout for mental health providers and healthcare workers more generally. A 2020 study found 78% of psychiatrists were facing high levels of burnout.

The 2022 COVID-19 Practitioner Impact Survey found 60% of psychologists reported having no openings for new patients and 38% maintained a waitlist. At UW, students have been offered access appointments within one week of calling, according to Nolan. This is reasonable when considering the broader healthcare system, which has been backlogged for years, Nolan said.

Hermus’ petition calls for even shorter wait times and a staff increase from 75 to 100 employees at UHS Mental Health Services to better serve the over 49,000 students on campus.

But Nolan said there are certain myths about the lack of providers at UHS.

“Our team is amazing,” Nolan said. “We have an environment right now where people are so passionate about serving students and the last three weeks with seeing the level of distress on campus, it’s been incredible to see my team be able to kind of compartmentalize their own experience to really show up for students.”

In the last two years, UHS has worked hard to create more space for students without pushing counselors to the point of burnout, which is pervasive in mental health professionals, according to Nolan.

Nolan said she and others on campus are starting to explore how to create more of a culture of care at UW to combat the high level of distress.

“We need to not just think about our therapeutic services, but we also need to think about how we’re gonna change the systems that have created all this distress for people in the world more broadly,” Nolan said. “We really urgently need to think about how we can reduce the levels of anxiety and depression that are in our children and our students.”

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On the UW campus, Nolan said there are currently many collaborative efforts in the works to understand the ways that systems and behaviors impact students. These include programs in collaboration with the provost office, athletics and other spaces.

Hermus said UHS has been receptive to his petition and he has met with providers, with a follow-up meeting planned for the coming weeks. At the time this article was published, over 2,100 people had signed the petition.

As a senior, Hermus said he could not leave UW without advocating for the importance of access to mental health resources on campus.

“What am I doing if I leave here and I don’t say anything?” Hermus said. “Am I really helping people if I just keep doing what I’m doing just because I got my help?”

The Badger Herald Editorial Board published a list of mental health resources for UW students, which can be found here.

Resources regarding suicide prevention and mental health:

  • Trevor Lifeline: crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25
  • 24/7 crisis support 608-265-5600 (option 9)
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