Student Government debates resolution declaring campus ‘mental health crisis’

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Photo Credit: Alexander Thompson | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government called on multiple state- and University-level entities, including the Counseling and Mental Health Center, for aid in solving what they described as a mental health crisis on campus during a meeting Tuesday night.

Members of SG and the Graduate Student Assembly formed Joint Resolution 4 declaring the crisis due to lack of funding for counseling services and the high demand for counseling. The resolution requests that the Student Services Budget Committee, which allots 90 percent of the counseling center’s budget, reevaluate funds to prioritize free services and increase the number of counselors.

Currently, UT is one of two of the top 10 largest public universities in the state that charges for counseling, with charges set at $10 per session. The other, the University of Houston, declared a mental health crisis earlier this semester.

“This is a really prevalent problem, and it needs to be dealt with,” said Justin Ahamed, resolution co-author and neuroscience junior. “There’s a limitation to what (the counseling center) can do with the resources they have, and I don’t think that there should be, especially when so many universities … are able to provide more services and without a charge.”

Despite nationwide demand for counseling services increasing by 55.1 percent between 2005 and 2014, the majority of 529 university and college counseling centers had operating budgets that stayed the same, according to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

UT’s own counseling center has seen a 53 percent increase in student interest in counseling and an 81 percent increase in the number of counseling sessions in the past six years, CMHC director Chris Brownson told The Daily Texan in October.

Eric Saldanha, SG internal financial director and government senior, expressed concern during the meeting that the term “mental health crisis” was misleading.

“I think it’s a disservice to CMHC to call it a crisis at the University,” Saldanha said. “When this passes, imagine what the response is going to be on campus … I do think this is going incite a level of panic that I don’t think the CMHC deserves.”

The University of Houston may have initiated the chain when its student government declared a mental health crisis earlier this semester, but UT hopes to continue the trend by passing on the resolution to other student governments in the state.

“We recognize this is not just the University of Texas — it’s competitive campuses all across the country,” resolution co-author Madison Huerta said. “Any awareness that we can raise around an issue like mental health … the more pressure we’re going to be able to put on our legislatures at a state level and a federal level.”

Business senior Huerta said even though the $10 fee for a counseling session is not much, it is still costly for some students, and she hopes the resolution will pressure administration to better fund mental health issues.

“We think we should re-look at our funds, and how we’re using them and figure out how … we can offer (free counseling) to our students,” Huerta said. “It should be something that you can just go to and you don’t have to jump through hoops to get.”

The resolution was referred to the Student Affairs Committee for further discussion.