Monday, September 15, 2008

UWM Daily Cardinal: Mental health demands more campus attention

By: Ryan Dashek /The Daily Cardinal - September 15, 2008

The UW-Madison system needs to focus more time and funds on the mental well-being of their students

From the most experienced fifth-year senior to the newest of freshmen, we all have felt at one time or another the stress and rigors of college life bearing down on us. Whether we are stressing over financial situations, what our goals for the future may be, relationships, or even that term paper due this Friday you haven’t even started yet, college is a tumultuous time that heavily impacts our minds and mental states. That being said, it should be a top priority for our university (any university or college, in fact) to have mental treatment and counseling readily available to all students for free, or at least at very affordable prices. The fact that a recent UW System audit found that student mental health needs were growing at a much faster rate than the resources available is, therefore, a cause for great concern. The UW System needs to address this issue now before it grows out of control or situations arise in which students are put at risk.

According to the audit, which ran at the end of summer, roughly 6.3 percent of all UW System students attended therapy sessions over the course of the last academic year. UW-Madison, however, experienced the highest percentage, with about 9.1 percent of students receiving counseling or treatment last year. And yet, some students wait as long as a week before they finally begin to receive therapy. This is simply unacceptable. To have allowed the student mental health system to have become so bogged down is reproachable, and the UW System as a whole needs to act now. What is even worse, though, is that as demand for student services rise, more people seeking treatment will be forced to wait longer and longer. Needless to say, the longer people are forced to wait, the greater the danger they may pose to either themselves or others.

Unfortunately, the UW System has no plans in the immediate future for alleviating the strain on the student mental health services. Yet, shouldn’t other projects take a backseat to student health care and safety? Can’t a new lab or library wait a year, while money is instead allocated toward programs that increase the health and well-being of students? Even if the UW System offers no solutions, then UW-Madison should at least tackle the problem head-on itself. After all, Madison does have the greatest percentage of total student population seeking out mental health treatment options, and we need to ensure that these students are able to receive immediate help.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the second leading cause of death amongst college students is suicide. A survey conducted in 2004 by the American College Health Association stated that 14.9 percent of all college students had been diagnosed with depression. College life takes a very serious toll on students’ mental wellbeing. As more students experience anxiety, drug addiction, depression and other serious mental illnesses every year, our universities need to be adequately equipped to handle the growing numbers. Even though demand has consistently increased over the last several years, the number of counselors at each UW school across the state has remained the same. This is a very serious issue that must be dealt with now, before it grows out of hand.

Waiting for more funds is not an option. Quick fixes such as increasing the amount of group counseling and employing trained students to help are good options for temporary aid on the strained student services, but more permanent solutions need to be planned and executed. The mental health of students cannot wait, and to hesitate would be to put the safety and health of all UW students at risk. The UW System needs to act now, before it is too late.

If you think that you or a friend may be experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, extreme stress or any other mental illness, check out the University Health Services website at or call them at (608) 265-5600 for general information.

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