CMHC must expand treatment options for students

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If you aren’t the one out of every five teenagers who lives with a mental condition, statistics suggest that you’ll come across one on the 40 Acres. The most recent University research shows that most students have felt overwhelming anxiety and sadness within the past year. 38 percent of Longhorns have felt too depressed to function, and 9.3 percent have considered suicide.

But these struggles continue: after midterms, after finals, after graduation. Most mental illnesses seen in adults develop during adolescence and young adulthood. The way students deal with their conditions now sets a precedent for lifelong coping mechanisms. As an institution that exists to prepare students for their futures, UT must prioritize treatment accessibility and take an active role in shaping students’ self-care habits.

Despite virtually nonexistent state funding, our university does a lot for mental health. The Counseling and Mental Health Center provides students with online resources, spaces integrated throughout campus and, for the few who can snag an appointment time, situational therapy. But “situational” is the key word — UT does not offer long-term or regular treatment plans.

I spoke with a student who asked to remain anonymous about his experience at CMHC. This student reached out for help the second semester of his freshman year after a years-long battle with anxiety. 

“I had been dealing with mental health issues ever since junior year of high school,” he told me. “But I never had access to cheap mental health treatment — I don’t have health insurance. I had been wanting to (go to the CMHC) since October but it was difficult for me to reach out for help.”

Once this student gathered the strength to schedule an appointment, the therapist recommended he look for off-campus options. His mental health history was too complex for our campus system, which could offer help with temporary issues, but nothing more than that. To fully address his situation, this student would need more than just the six appointments allowed for each student at the CMHC. 

When you fail a test or are having trouble adjusting to college life, campus resources are enough. The CMHC does well with what it has, prioritizing students at immediate risk of suicide and keeping 95% of their patients in school after they had considered medical withdrawal. But these services only apply Band-Aids. When you are developing serious illnesses that can impede your productive future, UT doesn’t have enough gauze to heal those wounds. 

Yes, there are mental health resources off campus, but even if students are aware of them (which students often aren’t), they’re not exactly what you’d call accessible. The cost of one session at the sliding-scale practice closest to campus ranges between 10 and 55 dollars. Depending on a student’s family and financial situation, costs might be too high for students to cover alone. Not to mention that it can be nearly impossible for people with depression to leave the house, let alone take the bus to a psychology practice. 

At the time that Longhorns first develop illnesses, the administration must be present to help students develop coping mechanisms. Just as the University Health System offers checkups, we need a mental health system to support students who suffer from more serious conditions with regular, consistent therapy.

As mental health advocates continue lobbying for much-needed state funding, we must unite behind smaller steps toward economic support, such as Student Government’s search for a naming grant. The CMHC should also publish and disseminate more information on campus-wide resources and sliding-scale therapists around Austin.

The CMHC does a lot of important work on campus. But we need to expand on the current model and provide more options for students at greater risk.

Larcher is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing major from Austin.