Mental Health

A state mental health advocacy organization is working to add funding so that universities like SIUE can add mental health support services.

National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago, an advocacy organization with affiliates around the country, is now working to secure funding during this legislative session. The group has been working with Illinois representatives and senators to create a line item in the state’s budget that is dedicated to the act.

In August of 2019, the Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act was signed into Illinois law, but little to no funding was secured to support services at public institutions.

Rachel Bhagwat, director of policy at NAMI Chicago, has been part of the team working to encourage representatives and senators, including State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, former SIUE professor, to help ensure that the act is given sufficient funding to support the 58 public institutions in Illinois. She said they have no pushback from government officials who are in support of the bill, but funding can be hard to secure when other topics may take a higher priority.

“The issue really becomes that there are so many competing priorities right now, and so many different groups and honestly worthy causes. It’s just making sure that people understand that this is a priority,” Bhagwat said. “It’s not that anyone is against it. It’s just making sure that this rises to the top.”

Bhagwat said back in 2019, universities filled out a survey that detailed what they needed funding for and how much they needed. The survey, which turned into an 87-page report, found that the estimated cost to support mental health on college campuses is $19 million.

“We have extraordinarily detailed breakdowns of what each school asked for and what they’d be using it for,” Bhagwat said.

Half a million dollars would go to the Illinois Board of Higher Education to create the Technical Assistance Center, a research center that would develop and help universities develop the best practices for implementing mental health resources on campuses.

The Illinois legislative session will end on April 8, when the budget is supposed to be approved, which means if the funding passes, it will be available for higher education institutions by July 1, according to Bhagwat.

Jessica Ulrich, director of counseling services at SIUE, said that Counseling Services is funded entirely by student fees, which means there is not a consistent funding amount coming in each year. She said dedicated funding would allow Counseling Services to hire additional counselors and staff, including expanding outreach and peer education programs.

“Maybe it’s having three counselors, maybe it’s having one person who is our assessment and triage counselor,” Ulrich said. “Should all the funding come at once, we should be able to increase [the staff] by four people.”

Ulrich said that along with hiring more counselors, they are making it a priority to hire counselors from diverse backgrounds.

“With the most recent search that we had, we did use an equity advisor for our search. That is something that we’re definitely invested in,” Ulrich said.

The Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act calls for one clinical, non-student staff member to 1,250 students. SIUE has approximately 13,000 students, and only six staff counselors, meaning they need at least 4 more to meet the act’s requirements.

Ulrich said she is thrilled about the idea of funding becoming available, as they were supposed to receive more funding prior to COVID, but the funding was allocated to support COVID efforts.

“It’s really exciting because all of the things that are required in the bill are definitely things that we’re in favor of and would want to do. But being a completely fee-funded unit, we don’t have a way to find all of those types of things, so we’re definitely thrilled,” Ulrich said.

Counseling Services at SIUE are free to students, but many students either do not know about them or are worried about what their peers may think about them for attending therapy, according to junior Hailee O’Dell, an elementary education and psychology major from Glen Carbon. O’Dell said as Student Government president, she encourages students to use the free resources at the university, as their student fees pay for them.

“I hear so many students all the time say, ‘I had no idea that we got free counseling here.’ There are these resources, but students don’t know about them,” O’Dell said.

Senior Nicole Burbach, a biochemistry major from Edwardsville, is a student government senator. Burbach said she has used the counseling services and went to six or seven sessions. She said that she had a positive experience but felt that it wasn’t quite the support she was looking for.

Ulrich said that Counseling Services doors will be opening soon, which means students will now be able to come into the office, rather than just calling, to set up an appointment. The doors have been closed throughout the pandemic because they are located within Health Services. She said if students want to set up an appointment or are needing non-urgent assistance, they can call the office or use Cougar Care to schedule an initial assessment.

(2) comments

Erica Schlueter

Hi! Former student! I attended last fall and part of the reason I no longer attend is the lack of support at SIUE. When calling counseling services for an appointment they simply ask are you suicidal? If you reply no they say it'll be 3-6 WEEKS to get an appointment. You don't have to be suicidal to be in crisis. Thanks!

Cleetus Yeetus

Maybe don't tell a bunch of healthy 18-24 year olds they're gonna die from a virus. Keeping them out of the classroom and preventing them from seeing each others face probably not great for mental health either.

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