In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, universities around the country are scrutinizing their mental health programs, but the University of Californian has already begun implementing necessary changes.

A UC committee’s recent findings demonstrate a marked increase over the past years in the number of students seeking counseling for mental health issues – needs that due to lack of funding sometimes go unmet. UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young said the UC system has been looking for the financial support to meet this demand over the past 10 years.

“In the UC system there is an increase in the numbers of students seeking counseling for mental health problems and also an increase in the intensity and complexity of those problems,” Young said. “At the same time, the level of funding to support student life services, including mental healthcare, has remained relatively unchanged.”

To address this issue, the UC-wide Student Mental Health Committee was formed in 2005 with Young as its chair. The 12-member committee assesses the current state of mental health care in the UC system and makes recommendations to the UC Regents for increased funding.

In response to a report the committee released last fall, the UC Board of Regents voted to set aside an increased 3 percent of registration fees to support improved mental health programs on UC campuses. While the increase will take effect during the 2007-2008 academic year, Young said he feels it is not enough to meet the mental health demands of students. Young and the committee made three original recommendations to the Regents.

“First, mental health services need to fully meet the mental health demands of students. Second, there needs to be intervention for vulnerable groups. Finally, we need to create healthier learning environment for students,” Young said.

UCSB Counseling Services Acting Director Jeanne Stanford said she has definitely seen an increase in the number of cases during her career at UCSB Counseling Services. According to the UC committee’s report, the total number of visits to UCSB counseling services, for instance, more than doubled from 2,102 in 1995 to 4,608 in 2005.

“In my 12 years at UCSB I saw an increase in both the numbers and the severity of mental health issues,” Stanford said. “It used to be most cases were minor relating to homesickness and test anxiety but now we see a shift increasing to more serious issues such as depression.”

The number of crisis appointments to UCSB Counseling Services has increased from 62 in 1991 to 462 in 2005. The nature of these more serious cases makes individual care from a counselor necessary, but so far the number of counselors has not increased to meet demand.

Stanford said counseling services at UCSB are good but that they would need to expand their services to meet the increased demand. However, additional funding would be needed to hire more staff.

“I am very proud of our counseling staff… but we are constantly busy throughout the entire week,” Stanford said.

UCSB clinically licensed social worker Burt Romotsky agrees with Stanford. Romotsky assesses students’ problems, helps them set goals and directs them to proper campus and community resources.

“We need more funding to hire at least one additional social worker and more staff,” Romotsky said.