Counseling services see long waits

By YooJin Son, Staff Writer

As the semester progresses toward the end, more students are experiencing stress from an increased workload as finals approach. However, those who are seeking help with mental health might not be in luck; due to limited counseling services available on campus.

Nichole Evans, assistant director of outreach and prevention and media communications coordinator of the Counseling Center, said counselors are making allowances in their schedules and are shortening some meetings to see as many students as possible.

“There’s nothing official, but I think everybody’s responding to this the best way that they can so that they can see the students who need it,” Evans said.

Evans said a lack of space is the biggest limiting factor to the number of students the Counseling Center can see.

“I’ve only been here for four years, and in the time that I’ve been here, we’ve taken over the whole entire basement of this building; we didn’t used to have that,” Evans said. “I think administration at the University realizes that, and they’re trying to come up with solutions as best they can. But it takes time.”

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The McKinley Mental Health Center and the Counseling Center are the primary services available on campus. However, the high demand cannot be satisfied due to limitations of counselors and psychiatrists.

Robert Woodward, medical director of McKinley Health Center, said the three psychiatrists try to see patients once a month for medication management.

“Counselors have around four weeks to be seen and psychiatrists are showing available appointments in about four to six weeks from now,” Woodward said in an email. Deborah Agoye, junior in Business, said her experience with McKinley Mental Health Center has been frustrating due to the one-month wait she had.

“At that point, it’s like, you’re going to be a whole different person, you’re going to find so many different things in a month. You’re not facing the same situation,” Agoye said. “If you really need to speak to someone, you can’t. So it’s just a bad system.”

Robert Parker, director of McKinley Health Center, said although they  are searching to hire more psychiatrists, there is simply a higher demand for mental health services than there are psychiatrists.

“You don’t have too much trouble finding psychiatrists in the big cities. Up in Chicago, there tends to be an abundance in that location. But you get south of I-80, you just don’t have enough psychiatrists,” Parker said. “There’s just a shortage compared to the amount of demand.”

To release the pressure of the high demand, Parker said students who are dealing with medical issues such as a sore throat could benefit from their insurance and get help through telemedicine. Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications technology that allows health care professionals to treat patients at a distance online.

Parker said roughly 26,000 students on campus have United Healthcare and can get regular health services online. Doing so would free up the primary care doctors.

“So that would be a way of taking some pressure off of McKinley, so that our primary care doctors aren’t necessarily seeing a sore throat, but seeing somebody with anxiety,” Parker said. “It takes pressure off the primary care doctors so that potentially they could see more mental health.”

Some students also turn to counseling services off campus as an alternative. The Elliott Counseling Group, an off-campus counseling group focusing on helping those in need of mental health concerns, has recently opened a branch at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana.

As Elliott Counseling Group  accepts the University’s United Healthcare insurance, Jenny Smith, office manager of the counseling group said at least a fourth of its clients are students from the University.

Lainey Emmons, business manager of the Elliott Counseling Group, said the expansion was made to provide mental health services when needed without having clients wait weeks for help.

“We believe in not having a waitlist. We believe if you need mental health care, you need it when you asked for it in our community,” Emmons said.

Quite often students seek help at the Elliott Counseling Group because either the Counseling Center or McKinley Mental Health Center could not offer immediate help, Smith said.

“We’ve heard stories of people having to wait six months to have an appointment. We really don’t think that’s fair to the community, especially to students,” Smith said. “With students, when they finally decide, yeah, I think I really want help, we want to be able to be here and help them.”

With experience reaching out to both the Counseling Center and McKinley Mental Health Center since her fr eshman year, Agoye said there needs to be a change in the availability of mental health services at the University.

“It’s been the same thing since freshman year. McKinley hasn’t, or I think hasn’t, had much of a change. I personally just feel like it’s a lack of care because you know constantly this is an issue that’s been going on for a while and you’re not doing anything,” Agoye said. “There should be a change.”

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