Banding together for mental health


Sergio Flores

The sun rises behind the Old Capitol in Iowa City on Friday, April 10, 2015. Rand Paul was in town to drum up support after announcing his intention to run for president earlier this week.. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

By Tom Ackerman

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The campus counseling services are making strides to overcome ongoing funding and resource challenges.

As a result of a strong push to expand mental-health awareness and treatment, the University of Iowa Counseling Service has expanded its services 18 percent this year, but it still has the lowest staff in the Big Ten. The staff ratio is below the UI’s accreditation requirements.

“We have allowed the system to expand itself to fit more need,” said Counseling Service Director Barry Schreier. “The numbers will always fill to what we provide, so if we make more space available, more students will come, and more students will get service.”

Schreier said the department has created extra schedule space for direct counseling by focusing less time on meetings and administrative business this year, allowing for double the number of same-day appointments than were available last year.

“There’s not a bottomless pot of resources, so if we start to dig into the resources and put hours into one side of the service, it has to come out of something else,” he said.

While Counseling Service staff members have worked to become more effective in combating the low number of hirings, students and faculty advocate for more funding with a hope to provide a sustainable solution for mental-health issues on campus.

“Not everyone has mental illness, but everyone has mental health,” said Rachel Zuckerman, a senator for the UI Student Government and a member of Active Minds, a group dedicated to mental-health awareness on campus.

She said UISG works closely with the Counseling Service to find more funding, because the need is serious.

“It’s not difficult to persuade people of the fact that we need to increase resources,” she said. “It’s just a question of how we’re going to do it.”

UISG will lobby for additional university funds this spring as a part of the annual Hawkeye Caucus, which takes place in Des Moines. An aspect of that, Zuckerman said, will be mental health and proposing it as necessity for student health.

“It’s important to look at where there are pockets of money being underutilized across campus and do some serious prioritization,” she said. “We’re looking at what is fundamental and necessary for the student experience.”

The Counseling Service has developed a proposal with ideas in funding for UISG to consider, Schreirer said. Possibilities for more funds include raising student fees and implementing therapists for individual colleges — which would be paid for by the colleges themselves.

Scheirer said the College of Dentistry takes this approach to get students proper care, but it is unclear how much more money the Counseling Service will require until state legislators respond to requests at the Hawkeye Caucus.

“UISG is working diligently with [the Graduate and Professional Student Government] and the Counseling Service to come to a solution that is in the best interest of students,” wrote Liz Mills, the president of UISG, in an email. “We’ve looked at several options, including the current and future student fees and continued to research and collaborate with administration on the best avenue.”

In the meantime, the Counseling Service will continue to work with what it has and work toward generating support and awareness for the cause on campus.

“These conversations haven’t been had in the past, and it’s unfortunately why we’re in the sort of desperate situation that we’re in,” Zuckerman said. “This isn’t just an issue that affects students — it affects everyone on campus.”

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