KU Psychological Clinic has a two-month waitlist despite not many people knowing about it

by Angie Baldelomar

The University’s Psychological Clinic struggles to meet the demand of students looking for mental health services, in spite of not many people knowing about it.

Sarah Kirk, director of the clinic, said that its waitlist is around two months, even though many do not know about the clinic.

“We’re a training clinic for graduate Ph.D. students,” she said. “We have the mission to train students and provide a service, so we provide a low-cost service not only to students here at KU, but anybody else, any community member.”

The clinic, located in the third floor of Fraser Hall, offers different fee accommodations, causing a great number of students to prefer it, Kirk said.

“Our first fee for students is $12,” she said. “But because we do a sliding scale, we would slide the fee down if they can’t afford it.”

The therapists working at the clinic are graduate students, which means they are not available eight hours a day to see clients. Because the clinic can see a very limited number of people, Kirk also avoids advertising the clinic.

Recent discussions of lack of diversity and inclusion in the University have triggered mental health talks in the KU community. The University Daily Kansan published an article a few weeks ago addressing how the University struggles to meet student demand for mental health services, especially for students with severe mental illness. The University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, charges $15 per session, and has a waitlist of at least two weeks.

Kirk said another challenge in mental health access on campus is the lack of diversity in providers.

This lack of diversity in counselors is also part of one of the 15 demands from the Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk group. Their demand # 9 states: “Establish team of multicultural counselors to specifically address severe mental illnesses and the needs of students of color by fall 2016.” This situation has led Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to say her office is working towards the accomplishment of this demand in a recent article in the Daily Kansan.

Mental illness such as anxiety and depression affects college students in universities nationwide.

Dr. Ruth Ann Atchley, director of the University’s department of psychology, said mental health issues affect college students because the human brain is not fully formed until about 22 to 23 years of age in women, and 23 to 25 in men. What’s more, the last brain structures to form are the ones that help control emotions, or avoid acting on impulse.

“We’re talking about a person who is very vulnerable based on their environmental situation, at the same time as all the brain structures that would be there to help you address haven’t fully wired, aren’t fully developed,” she said.

For senior Annette Jardon, mental illness has been a constant part of her life since she was a child.

“My mother has depression, and my little sister has depression and anxiety,” she said. “I grew up not knowing a whole lot about it. I could tell when things were wrong with my mom. I thought it was weird, but I didn’t know what was going on until I was quite a bit older.”

When she was studying abroad in Japan, Jardon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but it was only for a short period.

Although she has no personal experience with using the services the University offers, she has heard about her friends’ experiences.

“While the service here is cheaper than going to a professional outside the university, it is still not cheap for students, and that can be really hard,” Jardon said.

For Kirk, the unchanging system is another factor that may have led colleges to be unable to meet the demand for mental health services.

“We have this system that was once created to deal with fairly minor, less often occurring mental health issues,” she said. “We have a higher level of severity of mental illness, and greater mental illness, but the system hasn’t evolved or changed enough to meet the demand.”

Colleges across the country are reconsidering their policies and approaches to mental health, she said.

Kirk also suggests a possible solution to meet the demand for mental health services.

“There are other options,” she said. “If they are not going to provide the service or cannot, then maybe there’s the ability from people from the outside to come in and provide the service, but at least students will have an on-campus location.”

Jardon said that misconception and misinformation influence the way people view and address mental health. These misconceptions, she said, sometimes prevent people from realizing what is going on with themselves.

Jardon did not know about the Psychological Clinic until this semester – her senior year – when one of her professors, who is also a Ph.D. student in psychology, told her about his shifts at the clinic.

“I have to wonder if there is a way they could advertise it more to the groups that needed it,” she said. “More like a focus advertising.”

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