EDITORIAL: Students deserve adequate mental health services

The organization running Florida’s public universities has determined that USF is not able to provide sufficient mental health counseling to its students.

The International Association of Counseling Services recommends a ratio of one mental health professional for every 1,500 students. USF’s ratio of mental health professionals to students is a paltry 1-to-3,500 – the second lowest in the state.

College is a crucial time in students’ mental and social development. While students try to balance the pressures of coursework, employment, rent and personal relationships, campus health professionals are often the only reliable counsel available to them. Additionally, many students are separated from the only support system they previously depended upon – their family. Campus counseling is an essential service that every student deserves access to.

After a mentally ill student killed 33 people at Virginia Tech in April 2007, many U.S. universities have moved toward increased counseling available for students as an early detection method of mental illness and potentially dangerous students.

Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech gunman, was not a stranger who walked around a campus gate to commit the largest school shooting in U.S. history. He was a student who had already been deemed mentally ill and dangerous by mental health professionals but did not receive the counseling services he needed.

Counseling would not necessarily have prevented the Virginia Tech tragedy, but checking in regularly with students who have documented mental health issues is a proactive opportunity to combat similar incidents.

Mental health counseling is not just a way for students to deal with depression or other personal issues; it serves as a security measure for the rest of the campus population.

Dale Hicks, associate director of USF’s Counseling Center, said USF students must bear dreadfully long wait times – sometimes weeks – to see a counselor. An overstretched, understaffed counseling center cannot provide the quality or quantity of services to which students are entitled.

Although the report recommended that USF hire more mental health professionals to provide sufficient services for students, budget cuts undoubtedly threaten the need to increase staff.

Hopefully, as USF plans its security budget, administrators will understand the important role mental health counseling plays.