Campus counseling center vows to meet student needs after social media criticism

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A university student criticized the Counseling Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in a Reddit thread, describing being turned away in tears during a “serious mental health crisis” because they “already had an appointment six months ago.” 

Source: r/UIUC subreddit

Among all the comments appears a statement from the Counseling Center’s official account. 

Source: r/UIUC subreddit

“The response you saw was from our official account,” counseling center representative Nichole Evans said in an email. “We have a policy of responding when we are concerned that what has been said may prevent other students who need mental health resources from seeking help.”

The thread, posted to the r/UIUC subreddit, opened the floor for others to share their stories of “disregarded” mental health. 

More than 50 users commented on this post sharing their bad experiences with the center and suggested tips where students can seek mental help. The thread has already gathered more than 500 reactions and remains one of the top topics of the week. 

The Counseling Center, which has 32 full-time counselors, shared with CU-CitizenAccess that it does not often receive official complaints, but reviews the issues raised with both the student and staff members involved, and issues “corrective measures” if needed. 

“The Counseling Center strongly values making data-driven decisions and consistently seeks the feedback of clients to better understand how we are doing,” Evans said. “Most of our clients indicate that they are satisfied or highly satisfied about the service they receive from the Counseling Center. In fact, in the summer 2020 and fall 2020, 93% of clients who completed our feedback survey said that they would recommend the Counseling Center to a friend.”

Each student has an opportunity to receive mental help from the Counseling Center since they pay Health Service Fee. This fee ensures McKinley operations, too. For the Spring 2021 semester, undergraduate students must pay $220 in Health Service Fee.

UIUC Counseling Center has two main features: time-limited counseling and same-day scheduling. It means that the first-time appointments are scheduled on a same-day basis and caring about “immediate needs” rather than long-term therapy. 

“We have a team of crisis triage counselors who are on duty whenever the center is open, and students can ask to speak with one of them if they need to speak to someone immediately,” Evans said. “The triage counselor on duty may be helping another student when a call comes through, but they will get back to the student ASAP.”

Reddit commentators voiced disappointment with how difficult it is to receive real mental health care. Some described how they do not appreciate calling the Counseling Center at 8 a.m., waiting in line to save their spot, and if lucky, talking to the counselor. The Counseling Center does not use online waiting forms.

One user claimed that they were suggested to ask for help elsewhere while feeling suicidal and having “no other options” for help. Another student spent hours filling out  questionnaires only to be told that there is “no open counseling till next semester” and to “hold on” until then.

Some commenters were reminded about how university student Ying Ying Zhang’s killer told the counselors the ideas he was having before the incident and “nothing was done about it.” 

Even the positive feedback about the Counseling Center and its friendly staff contained wishes for hiring extra counselors and making counseling “more accessible.” 

The Counseling Center told CU-CitizenAccess that it has added eight embedded counselors in the past few years. The embedded counselor program “assigns counselors to work with the faculty, staff, and students from a particular college or department.”

The center is currently seeking more counselors to begin in the fall later this year, but could not provide an estimate on how many would be hired.

Users rallied to provide ways to manage mental health crises. Some of them suggested calling a crisis hotline, going to the Champaign-Urbana counseling/therapy centers or using teledoc. However, the thread creator mentioned that they experienced issues with insurance, so did not have this opportunity. 

Other commentators thought it might be useful reaching out to the Disability Resources & Educational Services (DRES) or McKinley Health. The University Psychological Services Center provides telehealth options with “very flexible” fees and accepts major insurance carriers. 

During COVID-19 times, the Counseling Center works only remotely. So, going to the Counseling Center in person as posters recommended is impossible. 

Evans said the Counseling Center wants students to know they are committed to their needs:

“We are committed to ensuring they have access to a variety of mental health services ranging from individual counseling, to group counseling, to skill-building programming that helps students build resilience and academic skills.”

In the meantime, compassionate users/students offered their help if anyone in a mental crisis needs “someone to cry to.”

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