BOT acknowledges, questions mental health services for students

The counselor-to-student ratio improved from the 2016-17 academic year to 2017-18, but the number of students who utilized counseling services increased. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

The USF Board of Trustees (BOT) on Tuesday heard about improvements to the university's mental health services, but members also raised questions that remained unanswered.

For the 2018-19 school year, the number of counselors available to students at USF was one to 1,306 students, according to Rita DeBate assistant vice president of USF Halth & Wellness. That number improved from last school year’s ratio of one counselor to every 1,476 students.

DeBate said the Counseling Center’s goal was to have a ratio of one counselor for every 1,500 students. The lower ratio means services and counselor availability are improving, DeBate said.

Board Chair Brian Lamb said it was essential for the university to see how it lined up with other state institutions, which prompted board member Stephanie Goforth to ask DeBate for a counselor-to-student ratio specifically from UCF.

DeBate said she did not have the figures since it would not be updated until the next Board of Governors meeting.

The number of students at USF who were Baker Acted last school year was 175, which was 45 more students than in the 2016-17 school year. Also, the Students of Concern and Assessment Team (SOCAT), which reviews referrals for students whose behavior presents a disruption to campus or concern for safety, received 1,038 referrals in 2016-17 and increased to 1,398 last year.

DeBate said the increase in students proved that people are utilizing USF’s mental health resources. USF System Body President Judy Genshaft, however,  asked for clarification on the rationality of the approach to emphasize an increase of people seeking mental health counseling and programming.

Part of the comprehensive approach is to increase the mental health literacy, said DeBate, which means the goal of the program is to increase the number of students who recognize the signs and symptoms and reach out for help.

The investments include marketing, outreach programs, satellite stations, wellness coaching and care management, which cost USF around $375,000 in salary and about $100,000 in benefits in 2017-18. This year, investments increased to approximately $770,000 in salary and just above $200,000 in benefits.

DeBate highlighted that faculty and staff participated in mental health training to be able to recognize signs and symptoms and refer struggling students to SOCAT.

BOT member Oscar Horton was concerned with the SOCAT approach and asked if the referral will be on the student’s record or be a liability for the school.  

DeBate had no direct answer for both questions and said it depends on the situation.

“Although the referrals have increased, which we wanted that too – over the last three academic years, the overall students referred through SOCAT, who are moderate or severe mental health cases, have decreased by 2 percentage points,” DeBate said.

Lamb redirected the conversation to focus on the fact that licensed professionals are fully capable of making recommendations based on the situation. 

“Just to be clear — to get away from the depends — you do engage professionals and do not make this assumption on your own,” Lamb said.

DeBate recognized the Counseling Center, Student Health Services, University Police, Housing & Residential Life, Dean of Students and faculty and staff for promoting mental health.

“Our next steps are to continue using current strategies, add group coaching, increase group therapy, add a men’s health initiative and address alcohol and drugs that could impact mental health,” DeBate said.