The University of North Florida, along with Florida’s 11 other public universities, is asking the state legislature to allocate additional funding to hire mental health counselors for more than 341,000 students across the state of Florida.
Today’s launch of the “Safer, Smarter, Stronger” initiative brought together State University System stakeholders from across Florida to promote the importance of hiring mental health counselors and other system-wide priorities.
UNF has a Counseling Center on campus that offers individual counseling, psychiatric services, nutrition services and group sessions, such as art therapy, to the campus community. The University hopes to secure funding to add two full-time psychologists, two full-time counselors, a full-time psychiatric nurse practitioner, a full-time crisis management counselor as well as a database that helps the University collect and track student behavior information.
“Due to the increase in student demand and no increase in funding resources, wait times for an initial appointment have gone from one to two weeks just a few years ago to three or four weeks currently,” said Dr. Andrew King, UNF Counseling Center director and licensed psychologist. “Additionally, students who were seen initially every week are now scheduled every two or three weeks. When dealing with the stresses of college and the potential for mental illness, time is of the essence.”
The literature on college success and the UNF Counseling Center’s own research, King noted, has made it clear that college students are more likely to remain in college after the first year, complete their degree and graduate on time than college students who don’t seek counseling. When mental health is ignored, opportunities for growth are lost and preventable suffering only serves to exacerbate existing stress.
The UNF Counseling Center, accredited by the International Association of Counseling Service, opened its doors on campus in 1975. Center staff had more than 7,700 student appointments between 2015 and 2016 and between May 1, 2016, and November 21, 2016, mental health staff saw nearly 14 percent more students and provided over 24 percent more appointments to students when compared to the same time frame during the previous year.
According to King, Counseling Center analysis shows that the severity of student symptoms has increased from year to year, while the utilization rate of services has gone up and academic stress remains stable from year to year.
“Students are demonstrating a need for these services, and our universities are working to make sure they’re safe and have the resources to be successful,” said Rep. Kathleen Peters, a mental health advocate who spoke at the rally. “We need to make sure the funding is there to help the students who really need it.”
Other speakers included Board of Governors Chair Tom Kuntz and Timothy Jones, a student veteran at the University of West Florida, who has used mental health counseling services on that campus. Jones said it’s only because of mental health counseling and community support that he’ll be graduating this spring.
The mission of the UNF Counseling Center is to enhance students’ total educational experience by providing a confidential and supportive environment, where student concerns can be shared and explored. Center services assist students with their personal development and enhance their potential for academic success.
The Board of Governors’ legislative budget request is here. Contact UNF PR Director Joanna Norris to set up an interview with the University’s Counseling Center director or Brittany Davis, BOG communication director, to arrange interviews with a rally participant.
UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.