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Wellness Center addresses demand for student counseling

Wellness Center addresses demand for student counseling

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By Tiffany Beyer

The USF System plans to spend 1.5 million to address the growing demand of mental health services on its campuses and USF St. Petersburg is taking steps to tackle its own specific needs.

“Many students are seeking support to help them cope with their multiple roles and responsibilities,” said Suzanne Stambaugh, assistant director of the Wellness Center. “A lot of our students are attempting to balance their academic responsibilities while also maintaining employment, taking care of themselves, and for many of them, caring for family members as well.”

According to Anita Saghal, the director of the Wellness Center, there continues to be a growing demand for mental health services. From 2013 – 2015 counseling appointments increased by 13.5 percent

Much of the growing demand is likely due to increased prevention and referral efforts on a national level, Stambaugh said.

“The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act was signed into law by congress in 2004 and put substantial funding and effort into suicide prevention research. This included early intervention and referral initiatives,” Stambaugh said.

After the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial was enacted, high schools and colleges improved their ability to identify students struggling with mental illnesses and how to refer them to mental health services.

The Wellness Center now regularly sees more clients with severe mental health concerns like suicidal ideation, substance abuse, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, some students on campus still feel as though they’ve slipped through the cracks.

Riley Tipton, an interdisciplinary social science student who moved to St. Petersburg this summer, said she went to the Wellness Center to get her anxiety and migraine medicine prescribed.

While there, she says she was told that medication could not be prescribed to her by the person she saw, who referred her to someone else. According to Tipton, she later found out that this person also could not prescribe her the medication.

“I took time off work to go to the therapist who wanted to know why I thought he could prescribe meds and kept asking me what I wanted him to do,” Tipton said.

Taylor Russell, who graduated last summer with a literature and cultural studies degree, also had a negative experience with scheduling follow up appointments.

“I had asked to see a psychiatrist because I would like the option of antidepressants and I was told that I would have to go through six one-on-one sessions, then group therapy before it would be considered,” Russell said. “They also mandate that you are only allowed 6 sessions of one-on-one, and after that you have to pay or go to group.”

While the increase in demand for these services puts strain on available resources, the Wellness Center is poised to make major improvements, such as adding a full time counselor and a full time victim advocate.

“The counselor position will focus on providing mental health services, including individual, group, couples therapy and crisis intervention, as well as mental health educational outreach programming,” said Stambaugh. “The victim advocate will provide information, community referrals and crisis response to all USFSP students who may be the victims of crimes like date rape, assault and domestic violence.”

They anticipate both positions being filled by spring 2018.

In addition, the center also offers an online self-help therapy program called Therapist Assisted Online.

“This will allow students to learn coping skills for anxiety and depression through interactive exercises and videos in an online format available 24/7,” Stambaugh said.

Saghal said in addition to that, the Wellness Center is exploring the possibility of adding wellness coaching services that would increase access to students for certain types of concerns such as time management and stress management.

“Our goals in our new programs and positions are to empower the USFSP community by promoting a proactive and compassionate approach to holistic wellness and student development in an inclusive, collaborative and multidisciplinary environment,” Stambaugh said.

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