By Ashley Coria, Wichita State University, original article link
Limited funding holds Wichita State University back as the demand for mental health services hits an all-time high in the wake of the pandemic.
In a study by Farzan Sasangohar on the effects COVID-19 has had on college students’ mental health in the U.S., 138 (71%) students out of 195 reported increased stress and anxiety due to the outbreak with students fearing for their own health as well as the health of their loved ones.
Jordan Cao, a student at Wichita State, said that mental health on campus has been deteriorating since the start of the pandemic.
“I think everyone’s mental health has been on the decline,” Cao said. “I think if anyone says they’ve been fine that they’re either lying or are extremely lucky to not have to experience what a majority of people have been going through.”
Cao has utilized Counseling and Prevention Services (CAPS) on campus and thinks it’s a convenient and cheap option for those seeking help. When it comes to representation among the counseling staff, Cao hopes that in the future he can request to see someone that shares the same ethnicity.
“Being Asian American, it would be easier to talk about my problems with someone that is also Asian American,” Cao said. “And I don’t know if that’s an available option.”
Jonathan Lozano, SGA Director of Health and Wellness, has also used CAPS when he was battling depression and severe anxiety.
“As a Hispanic, I have never really been educated about mental health,” Lozano said. “Reaching out for help was by far one of the best things I could have done.”
“While I wish I had a counselor of color, I was very comfortable with my counselor,” Lozano said. “I felt like I was being listened to.”
Data from the Census Bureau shows that about 61.9% of counselors in the U.S are white making it the most common race in the occupation.
Jessica Provines, director of CAPS, said one of her goals is to increase representation of the student body among the licensed staff.
“Having a staff that is representative of our student body is important,” Provines said. “And that is one of our main goals is to add more counselors in the future particularly those with a multicultural focus.”
One thing limiting the growth within CAPS is funding, because most of it comes from student fees. Provines hopes that the university can contribute more state tuition tax dollars towards CAPS.
“I think it could be helpful from a university level to have more state tuition tax dollars going towards mental health,” Provines said. “It would be great to have additional funding to hire some masters level multiculturally focused counselors intentionally designed to increase the racial and ethnic diversity amongst our staff.”
Additional funding can also help provide a dedicated staff to work on prevention efforts because many of the counselors work in their spare time, reflecting how important prevention is.
“Currently we don’t have a dedicated budget for prevention and counselors are taking the time because prevention is important,” Provines said. “Support from the university in our prevention efforts to have a dedicated staff who are there to do the educating is something that the university can also do to help.”
According to the Wichita State University Annual Operating Budget for the 2021 fiscal year, about 1.9% of general use funds, which includes tuition dollars, goes towards CAPS. Wichita State recently proposed an increase in tuition rate and anticipates an estimated $1.7 million from the additional tuition generated, according to the Fiscal Year 2021 Tuition and Fee Proposal.
Some of this money can be allocated towards CAPS, Provines said.
Currently, CAPS has a total of eight counselors.
“We’re about three counselors shy of one licensed counselor to every 1000 to 1,500 students,” Jessica Provines, Director of CAPS, said. “I would really like for us to get within that range where we have the recommended number of counselors for the number of students enrolled.”
CAPS has seen an influx of students utilizing services since the pandemic began more than a year ago. This past March CAPS had a record-breaking utilization with more students taking advantage of this service than ever before.
“March was the busiest spring month we have on record with 99 clients starting treatment,” said Dr. Christopher Leonard, Associate Director of CAPS. “We also surpassed the record for the most individuals that ever attended CAPS in a month at 644 appointments.”
CAPS has a Suspenders for Hope campaign that encourages students to openly talk about their mental health and to check in on fellow Shockers.
“We’re really trying to end the stigma and let students know that the university has the services available to them,” Provines said. “The message behind Suspenders for Hope is it’s more than just CAPS, it’s really about us as a community supporting each other in our mental health.”
The campaign recently expanded beyond Wichita State and into the community and nationally through its website suspenders4hope.com, which features training on suicide prevention that Provines encourages all students to take.
“The training gives students the tools that they need to really identify someone in distress and the confidence they need to connect them to crisis resources,” she said.
Provines’ vision for Suspenders for Hope is that someday Wichita State can be a leader in students’ mental wellness and that the campaign will be a universally recognized symbol for supportive mental health communities.
This story was produced by WSU’s Advanced News Reporting class as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of seven media companies, including The Sunflower.