As students search for ways to cope with mental health issues, senators from the Student Government Association (SGA) are working on an initiative for UT to partner with mindfulness app Headspace, following traces of schools like Georgia Technology and Boston University.
Patrick Angelaccio, a second social work student and SGA senator who chairs the infrastructure committee, decided to create a bill in the SGA senate to partner with the app to help students who might not being able to take advantage of UT’s guidance. services, due to the long waiting list.
“I started thinking, well, our counseling center is overwhelmed, our students are overwhelmed, there has to be a way to help bridge the gap,” Angelaccio said. “I just wanted something in between to help the school know that we care about mental health, we care about our students, but we can’t just say, ‘hey, hire 50 more counselors.’ “
For this legislation to take effect, it must be passed by the SGA Senate, which Angelaccio said is unlikely to be a problem. After that, the bill is no longer in the hands of the students and is sent to the administration and faculty senate where UT will decide whether to support it or not and allocate funds for it.
“Even if it’s not adopted, at least we’re letting teachers know that mental health matters to us and trying to do more of it in some form,” Angelaccio said.
SGA Senator and sophomore journalism student Riya Patel decided to help Angelaccio’s legislation efforts with a Change.org Petition to demonstrate student need and support for the new initiative.
“Basically, with bills and such, it can be difficult to show the administration that people want the problem fixed,” Patel said. “I was like, honestly, a petition could be a really good idea because we can show the administration that it’s needed and that people are actually going to use it if we implement it.”
While Patel and Angelaccio were hopeful in the app’s effectiveness, they both noted that this partnership would not solve mental health issues on campus, but would act more like a band-aid while the resources of board are expanded.
“In the time when someone can’t find a therapist, Headspace is at least something, but it’s not even close to a solution,” Patel said. “The solution is to add more advisers, which makes the process of getting an adviser and all that easier.”
While this is just one way to help relieve the counseling center and provide mental health resource options, Angelaccio thinks it’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s not really the end for mental health at UT,” Angelaccio said. “I don’t want that at all. I just want to start because we have to deal with the overwhelming stress that students face.
Mikala Leath, an off-campus SGA senator and communications major who helped Angelaccio and Patel publicize the legislation and petition, added that she knows the student health center really cares about student well-being. , but echoed claims that they need more resources .
“As a long-term user of the Counseling Center for individual and group therapy services, among other things, I have found so much care and support through the services offered at the UT Health Center, but I recognize the growing need for more advisors and resources,” said Leath.
The counseling centre, in Patel’s opinion, is struggling due to low resources and cannot support the huge number of students who need support through the university due to finances or the lack of acceptance from family members.
“I was very lucky with the counseling center, but … I had friends who couldn’t get in, who couldn’t find a therapist who could help them and who met their needs,” said Patel said. “Also, I mean, the admissions time is so incredibly long that by the time you walk in your issues are… either so bad or you had to look elsewhere and it’s just not doable for you. people.”
Angelaccio pointed out that while the Counseling Center may not have the resources to address all mental health issues on campus, the intent of this legislation and petition is not to point fingers. . Rather, its goal is to help fill a gap that is simply not being filled right now due to underfunding and a shortage of staff.
“It’s trying to help them and help us,” Angelaccio said. “I’m not trying to hate the counseling center because I think it could be improved and help a lot of students.”
SGA has not been in direct contact with the advice centre, but Judi Gibbons, acting director of the student advice centre, told the Daily Beacon that the center is open to ideas from students.
“We remain committed to our mission to promote the psychological, educational and social well-being of our students, and that includes listening to students as we improve our services,” Gibbons said. “We are pleased to meet with the students who started the petition to learn more about the needs and interests of students and what they say are the most helpful and supportive measures.”
Gibbons said there are also mental health counseling services provided by UT outside of the counseling center. The psychology clinic which serves as the doctoral training site for the clinical psychology program, offers low-cost services and therapy.
Counselor Training Clinic also supervised graduate students who provide “free individual and group counseling that is holistic in nature and based on the wellness model of interpersonal growth,” according to its website.
Gibbons also said the counseling center currently employs 12 full-time licensed therapists, three part-time licensed therapists and five full-time psychology interns. They also have nine doctoral student-clinicians in psychology at various levels. They are looking to hire three more people in full-time positions.
“We work every year to increase our staff, and expanding our services is a priority,” Gibbons said.
She also pointed out that they are open to new ideas despite having tried a similar approach in the past.
“SCC previously used a program called TAO Connect which had several self-help features, including mindfulness training, but it was not well used by students and so the contract was terminated,” said Gibbons.
Patel believes the responsibility for funding mental health resources and solving the problem lies with the university. She credited the former Associate Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Students Shea Kidd Brown’s working with the provision of resources and said students want this push to continue through the work of other administrators.
“It’s the administration’s responsibility to put the funding that way, to care,” Patel said.
Senators haven’t received a response from UT regarding the petition, but Patel said they don’t expect to hear anything until the bill passes the Senate and SGA lobbyists don’t. present it to the administration.
In a statement to The Daily Beacon, Jill Zambito, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Student Life, said UT is always on the lookout for new programs and ideas that can improve well-being.
“UT, and especially the student life departments, are continually reviewing programs and products that could improve student mental health,” Zambito said.
“Mental health apps and programs were growing in use and popularity before 2019, but with the pandemic, it looks like the growth has been exponential. We continue to review additional options and are in regular contact with colleagues on other campuses to discuss best practices and new ways to support students.