EDITORIAL: Funding needed to combat students’ mental health issues

Lack of funding has made combating mental health issues difficult for universities. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Over the past few years, there has been a surge of mental health issues reported at colleges across the country.

According to Rita DeBate, the assistant vice president of Wellness at USF, our university has seen an increase in the diagnosis of depression, panic attacks, Baker Acts and suicide ideation and attempts.

Other colleges have noticed the unsettling increase as well, and the Florida Board of Governors submitted a legislative budget request of a recurring $14 million, which is supported by all 12 presidents in the Florida university system.

The trend is not new, it has been steadily increasing for years. And it’s not being ignored. All major universities are stressing the importance of mental health. However, they aren’t receiving the funding needed to effectively combat it.

President Judy Genshaft spoke out on the issue at the last Faculty Senate meeting, stating the money would be “divided up depending on the need per campus in a very fair and formulaic approach.”

Counseling centers are understaffed, with students having to wait weeks in some instances to get an appointment. There have been 94 Baker Acts — a call for involuntary examination of someone who is believed to be a threat to themselves or others — at USF since the beginning of the fall semester, averaging at three a week.

That is unacceptable. 

Our administration says they are ready to begin tackling the overwhelming issue running rampant through campus. Other universities are saying the same. 

The government needs to ensure the universities have the funding to do so. 

Of the $14 million requested, $7 million will go toward resources for treating mental health issues, while the other $7 million will go toward resources for campus safety.

At the end of the day, $14 million is not an obscene amount of money. In reality, $14 million divided amongst 12 universities will not be enough. 

But it’s a decent start.

Students are facing immense levels of stress. Many work multiple jobs, run on little sleep and are taking intense class loads. The expectations weighing on their shoulders cause such exhausting levels of stress that many begin to spiral. 

The university needs to be able to pick them up when they do. Mental health is not some imaginary diagnosis made to coddle privileged “snowflakes.” It is real, and if not properly cared for, it can be destructive. 

There is no reason the student-to-counselor ratio at USF should be 2,000-to-1. There is no reason we should be understaffed. There is no reason why our government cannot make the necessary adjustments to fund $14 million to ensure the mental well-being of the students who call Florida home. 

The fact that the administrations of 12 colleges and universities are rallying behind the measure proves this is a real and pressing issue. 

Students have been lobbying for increased support for years. The universities are too. It’s imperative they receive support.

If students know there is little help for them, they won’t take precautionary measures to protect their mental health. They’ll bypass the warning signs and wait until it’s too late. 

We can’t wait until they are Baker Acted. We can’t wait until depression overtakes them and they drop out of school. We absolutely can’t wait until they attempt to take their own lives.

There are incredible students that call USF home. Whatever adjustments need to be made to obtain the funding will be worth it.