University struggles to meet demand for mental health services

UVU's Student Health Services provide basic physical and mental health services to students. (Photo by Hunter Hall)

After the past year has left many college students isolated, anxious and sometimes financially unstable, demand for mental health and psychiatric services has skyrocketed.

The New York Times reported that mental health professionals across the country have been unable to keep pace with the influx of new patients, even after taking on extra patients and opening evening and weekends hours. This is on top of an already under-utilized mental health infrastructure that resulted in up to 40% of “major depressive episodes” going untreated in teens in the state of Utah, according to federal data from 2015.

Utah Valley University’s own mental health services have struggled to accommodate the increased numbers of students requesting therapy sessions or other mental health services. One student — a junior communications major who spoke on condition of anonymity as she is a current patient — said she had to wait for almost three months before she was even admitted to the waitlist, and then waited almost another month before her first appointment.

“When I went online to find the help that I needed, that was a big step for me,” she said. “I go on the website to get help, only to be turned away from the waitlist. It made things worse. I felt like, ‘Great, now I’m never going to get help. I’m in the deepest, darkest place I’ve ever been, and nobody is willing to help me.’”

The student said she had seen other therapists prior to this experience, but said she worried about other students who might be experiencing a mental health crisis for the first time.

Ammon Cheney, a mental health therapist and member of the outreach committee for mental health services, said that the university is aware of the drastic influx of students seeking services and is continually expanding operations and services to better serve the student body. While Cheney is unauthorized to comment on financial or budgetary items, he did confirm that the department hired one additional full-time therapist over the past year and has expanded the number of group therapy sessions available.

Cheney said that administrators made a conscious decision to cap the number of students allowed on the waitlist, to redirect students to outpatient clinics rather than give them the false impression that they’re close to the front of the line. The student, however, said she never received any alerts or notifications and was unaware that she should have been looking elsewhere.

“I reached out for help and I’m not getting it,” she said. “I felt kind of lost. On one hand, any help is better than no help. But on the other hand, if this was my first experience with trying to get help, I don’t know if I would feel like going back.”

Cheney acknowledged that the department still has a way to go to be able to meet the needs of the student body, but he hopes that students will continue to address their mental health needs. For more information on the student mental health services, visit https://www.uvu.edu/studenthealth/psych

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 9-1-1 or l-800-273-8255 for help.

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