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At the UI, more seek mental health help

Moscow-Pullman Daily News - 1/26/2018

Jan. 26--The University of Idaho's Counseling and Testing Center saw 63 suicide incident reports last year -- nearly twice as many as five years ago, according Greg Lambeth, director of the CTC.

The statistic is just one of several that point to an increase in demand for mental health services at the UI.

In the last seven years, the CTC saw a roughly 30 percent increase in its number of clients. Last year, 41 percent of clients reported having at least some thoughts of ending their lives, while a 2017 National College Health Association survey of 982 UI students indicated 16 percent of UI students had seriously considered suicide anytime in the last 12 months.

"These are daunting numbers," Lambeth said, adding those numbers do not mean UI is an outlier in college suicide statistics.

Lambeth and Dean of Students Blaine Eckles helped craft a budget proposal this year that would allow the UI to hire two Student Support Case Managers, one for the CTC and the other for the Dean of Students Office. The case managers would provide crisis intervention and short-term counseling as well as referral support for students.

Lumped together with a request to fund two positions within the Center for Disability Access and Resources Office for the Raven Scholars Program, a program that focuses on students diagnosed on the autism spectrum, the request totals nearly $320,000 in state funding.

This week, UI President Chuck Staben made that request and several others to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee at the statehouse in Boise.

According to the request, the case managers would be involved with various mental health programs and projects, including assisting with the UI's Suicide Prevention Program and coordinating mental health assessment programs.

The need for the position in the CTC is so great, Lambeth said, the UI hired a temporary, year-long position last August through an internal reallocation of funds the university was able to pull together.

"That's how critical I felt like it was here," Lambeth said.

That's not to say the CTC is critically understaffed. The center rarely refers its clients to the community, preferring to offer students free, on campus services. And students are taking advantage of those opportunities. Still, what would be the case manager's work is being completed by other staff, Lambeth said, and there is no one designated with coordinating responsibilities.

During the Wednesday JFAC presentation, Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d'Alene, asked Staben whether the UI has seen an increase in student suicides, to which Staben said the UI has seen a "massive increase in students who are seeking counseling and mental health," adding, "frankly, our facilities, our folks who provide those services, are fairly overwhelmed."

Souza asked why it was that students were seeking mental health services at increasing rates. Staben did not speculate as to why that could be, but said the trends are similar nationwide.

Lambeth said while there have been spikes, students seeking mental health services has been on a steady incline for the past 10 years.

Part of the reason could be that the UI offers access to free, licensed psychologists -- a service and opportunity many students have never had access to before, and one that they might think to take advantage of while they're still in college.

"They recognize that these things are either affecting how they feel about themselves or maybe it's affecting their academic performance," Lambeth said.

He believes the proposal is strong and the need is clear for a Student Support Case Manager for the CTC, though it is one of several budgets the UI proposed to JFAC that come without a recommendation for approval from the governor.

Taylor Nadauld can be reached at (208) 883-4630, by email to tnadauld@dnews.com and on Twitter @tnadauldarg.

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(c)2018 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)

Visit the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho) at www.dnews.com

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