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USF Counseling Center’s resources limited

Stress, sleep deprivation and social pressure combine to create an environment that can be responsible for increased strain on students’ mental health.

If symptoms of depression or anxiety are promptly addressed, students have a better chance to maintain control over their lives and academic performances.

At USF’s Counseling Center, however, students are forced to wait two to three weeks to see a counselor and are limited to 10 free one-on-one sessions during their academic careers.

This stands in contrast to many state schools, such as the University of Florida, where students get an appointment the same week they ask for one, and the therapist determines the number of sessions the student attends. At the University of North Florida, students normally wait one week to see a counselor and can attend up to 12 sessions free each academic year.

However, USF’s Counseling Center is not the only state program facing limitations. Students attending the University of Central Florida normally wait anywhere between one and three weeks and can attend five one-on-one sessions with a counselor.

All counseling centers have walk-in crisis services, where students are seen on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Though the nationwide average of counselors to is one to 1,700 students, USF’s ratio is about one to 3,000. The Counseling Center has seen a nearly 50 percent increase in students seeking one-on-one counseling in the past six years, according to an article published in the Tampa Tribune.

According to Dale Hicks, a faculty administrator at the Counseling Center for Human Development, 2,500 students sought clinical service at USF in 2006, and the pattern seems to be increasing since the beginning of the year.

“I have conflicting feelings about that,” Hicks said. “There are more and more people coming in, but without the resources to meet those needs, it’s going to be possible to face a longer wait to meet those needs.”

According to Hicks, the two main factors in the increase are the annual increase of students entering USF, and the decrease of stigma of subjects such as depression.

“There is a difference between intellectual ability and functional access to those abilities, and what determines access to functional ability is personality – it’s the non-intellective part of functioning,” said William Anton, director of USF’s Counseling Center.

Therefore, bright students facing a tragedy would not be able to concentrate, think and apply knowledge – not because they don’t have the intellectual ability to do so, but because they do not have access to those abilities under those particular conditions, Anton said.

Only 47 percent of USF students graduate in six years, Hicks said. A commissioned consultation report conducted in 1999 showed that the majority of students who leave USF don’t do it for academic reasons, but because of personal issues and life crises.

“We are very effective as a counseling center. We make very effective use of resources, and we haveexcellent, highly trained staff,” Anton said, adding that the Counseling Center has “a pre-doctor internship program that enhances the effectiveness of our services.”

However, with a staff of eight full-time psychologists and psychiatrists, the Counseling Center is not able to provide service to everyone.

“We would like to serve more people in a more timely manner, and a way to do that is to have more counselors,” Hicks said.

According to Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall, the Counseling Center draws its resources from two major outlets: the Educational and General Activities policy in the state’s budget, and a health fee paid as a part of students’ tuition.

Since the University and the state have limited resources available, funds go to the departments able to make the strongest case for the allocation of such resources, Anton said.

According to Anton, the Counseling Center is in the process of submitting a new budget based on the zero-base model. The zero-base budget finds its origin in the assumption that there are no funds in the division of Student Affairs. The plan will develop in the next seven years.

The plan describes the current level of services and their costs, and requests the amount of money needed to provide these services, taking into consideration inflationary increases. It also anticipates further services needed, such as the addition of two therapists per year, Anton said.

“It’s our responsibility to make the case to be able to justify the allocation of the resources in our direction,” he said.Student Affairs tries to balance the distribution of resources among the different services provided at USF, such as Health Services, Office of Disability Services and the Office of Multicultural Activities.

“We have to provide a number of programs and services that help students (be) at their best,” Meningall said. “It’s a very complex issue because the Counseling Center is one service that provides assistance. … Do they need more resources? Absolutely, but other places need more resources, and we have to balance all of it for all students’ needs.”

According to Hicks, the Counseling Center has a variety of outreach programs to make up for the inability to provide one-on-one sessions. About 12,000 students attended different workshops and group psychotherapy last year. The Counseling Center also provides reading resources with self-help books.

“Everybody can benefit from some kind of mental health awareness or counseling of any form,” said student body President Frank Harrison, adding that his depression and obsessive tendencies have receded after entering therapy. “Mental health is like physical health: It needs continuous maintenance.”