We need to better mental health care

Charlie Gstalder is a firstyear English and philosophy double major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Westchester, N.Y.

The U.S is facing a mental health crisis amidst its younger generations, and Xavier University is on the verge of facing the consequences. While Xavier’s mental health system is one of the best amongst similarly sized colleges, more staff must be hired. I fear failure to do so will result in student suicides within the near future.

Before I begin, I’m Charlie, I have a General Anxiety Disorder and I battled anxiety and depression throughout all of high school. My freshman year of high school, two students died by suicide within two weeks. I cried while researching this piece. A majority of the information outlined in this Op-Ed is taken from a proposal Margaret Berding, Jenna Cusick, Christine Henn, Eve Vavilis and I created for Professor Lyon’s English 115H course. The opinions expressed are my own.

Let’s start with some national statistics. According to a 2017 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, (NAMI) the 18-25 year old demographic has the highest rate of both mental illness and severe mental illness, at rates of 25.8% and 7.5% respectively. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that each year, 10% of college students seriously contemplate suicide. Of all people aged 18-29 who suffer from a severe mental illness, only 40% receive treatment.

Last semester, someone very close had been going to the HUB for therapy. One session they told their therapist that they were suicidal with date and plan. They were notified it would be two weeks before their next appointment, and were told to talk to a friend about their feelings until then. This type of response is disgusting, unacceptable, dangerous, and not the fault of the therapists who work tirelessly and dutifully to help Xavier students. The fault lies within the administration’s failure to employ an adequate number of staff.

Within Xavier University Counseling Services (separate from the Psychological Services Center aka Sycamore House) nine practitioners are available. Of these nine practitioners, five are trainees. Of the four independently licensed clinicians, each sees an average of 30 clients each week. This is through a combination of individual and group therapy. While Xavier has no limit on the number of free counseling sessions one can attend, it is lying by omission. Of the illnesses that require long term support, only students who are experiencing limited resources or certain cultural factors stay under the permanent care of the university. The overwhelming majority of students requiring long-term get a “warm handoff” in which the University works with a student’s insurance and their community partners to find a student outside help. I understand this practice is necessary regardless of staffing but am perturbed nonetheless. The University does not employ a full-time psychiatrist, rather, the psychiatrist is available for a mere four hours each Friday. Because of this, students requiring SSRI’s, the most common type of antidepressant, are assessed not by a psychiatrist, but by a TriHealth General Practitioner. The psychiatrist only prescribes medication for more complex needs. 

Fixing these problems is easy. According to Salary.com, the salary range of a college/university Psychologist in the Cincinnati area is $59,330-$76,400 annually. The salary range of a higher education counselor in the Cincinnati area is $48,429-$64,426 annually. The average salary range of a Psychiatrist in the Cincinnati area is $96-$152 per hour. Using the low end of these assessments, the annual cost of adding two higher education counselors and one college/university Psychologist is $156,138. Combining this figure with the cost of making our visiting Psychiatrist available for an additional four hours each week, for the 38 weeks of classes, indicates a total annual cost of $170,780. Increasing the Student Wellness Fee, which funds the counseling services, by $50 would net the University $249,850 annually, significantly more than necessary for new hires. This would increase the average net cost of attending Xavier by 0.14%, a largely negligible change in tuition. Salaries are expensive, talk is cheap, and lives are priceless.

Xavier Administration, your mental health services are critically understaffed and thus you are faced with a choice: you can either hire more professionals, or you can begin to dust off your black suits and dresses. Act now, or students will die.