The recent incident at South Hall has renewed concern over campus mental health services, which officials say are severely lacking in funds.
Last Tuesday evening, the undergraduate student responsible for the evacuation of South Hall was taken into custody and later removed to a psychiatric facility for evaluation due to his bizarre behavior. Although this incident brought the issue of mental health to light, UCSB officials say major budget cuts have crippled the capacity of campus mental health services — comprised of both psychologists at Counseling Services and psychiatrists at Student Health — over the past several years.
According to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young, the incident may have been a wake-up call for many UCSB students, but was not entirely unexpected.
“Unfortunately we regularly have cases of students in psychological distress — it’s a part of what I have come to call a new normal,” Young said. “The fact that there are cases of students in distress at that level of severity and fairly frequently, as a matter of fact, is not surprising to people in my shop.”
Dr. Holly Bradbury, associate director of Counseling Services, said last week’s episode points to the recent rise in demand for mental health services among students.
“Independent of this particular situation, there has generally been an increase in numbers and severity of issues for students over recent years,” Bradbury said. “Hence, there has been an increase in demand for psychological services.”
The current national standard demands one psychologist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. According to Young, UCSB is currently three psychologists short of this standard, taking both Counseling and Student Health Services staff into account. Young said UCSB had been in the position to increase its psychologist to student ratio prior to recent budget cuts, but the current fiscal crisis has forced the university to backtrack.
“We are to experience a whole other set of cuts this year and likely cuts the following year,” Young said. “Now we are in a very different situation, and I’m concerned about the loss of progress we’ve made and our diminishing capacity to respond to need… This [shortage of psychologists] translates to wait time for students, and that causes me great concern.”
Last week’s incident notwithstanding, Yonie Harris, dean of students, said mental health professionals are doing their best to accommodate students.
“It’s impossible to know exactly how that would have turned out if we had gotten an earlier call; I can’t say for sure,” Harris said. “What I do know is that on a daily basis this team is making a difference in the lives of students. Students are getting help sooner and I do believe a lot of serious situations have been avoided.”
Despite declines in funding, help is available in several locations on campus including psychiatrists at both Student Health and Counseling Services around the clock. Additionally, the new 24/7 After Hours Counseling Hotline, (805) 893-4411, allows students as well as concerned friends and family to speak with a psychologist after hours.