A new fee approved by Mizzou students in the spring will help fund expanded mental health services on campus over the coming school year. That's good news for the many students who seek out the MU Counseling Center each semester.
“The only thing I wanted my freshman year was to be normal,” said Daniaja Davis. “I wanted to have a normal college experience. I thought I really wanted to get away from home, that was the mindset I was in. If I get away and start over, life will be swell.”
For Davis, a women and gender studies major at the University of Missouri, coming to college was a tough transition.
And Davis said it was hard to establish a support group when she wasn’t sharing what was going on with the people around her.
“They would just know that one day Daniaja was happy, and the next day she’s crying through the hallways,” said Davis. “They don’t really know what is going on.”
Davis said she had separation anxiety and severe homesickness. She said she started having anxiety attacks.
“I would have them in my sleep,” said Davis. “My poor freshman year roommate would just watch and not really know what to do. I’d wake up and not want to talk about it.”
Davis began therapy at the MU Counseling Center her sophomore year. She credits the counseling center as the reason she is at MU instead of back home in Chicago.
The Missouri Assessment of College Health and Behavior reported that almost half of Missouri college students dealt with anxiety in 2016. The MU Counseling Center is one of the main resources for students dealing with mental health issues on campus, and students recently voted to increase funding for the center.
The funding increase comes from the Student Services Enhancement fee, also known as the Enhance Mizzou fee, that passed in March. The fee will increase the student activity fee by twenty percent—about 26 dollars for graduate students and 35 dollars for undergraduate students each semester starting in fall of 2017. The fee will help fund 24-hour service for Ellis Library and expand campus wi-fi, along with adding three new counselors to the permanent staff of 14 at the counseling center. A large part of the student-led marketing for the fee was centered on the increased funds for the MU Counseling Center.
The counseling center funding was an important reason why Savannah Borgsmiller, a strategic communication major at MU, decided to join the marketing team for the new fee.
“The necessity for mental health is growing, and it's only going to get larger and more intense with the years,” said Borgsmiller. “I think it’s only apt and only time that this fee came about.”
Borgsmiller said she has heard students' frustrations over the long wait times to see counselors. She said she is hopeful the hiring of three new counselors thanks to the fee will help shorten these wait times, but the fee can’t be the only thing MU does to improve mental health on campus.
“I think there probably isn't as much emphasis on the counseling center as there should be,” said Borgsmiller. “I think this enhancement fee is only solving a little bit of a very large problem.”
Long wait times and lack of resources to counseling centers is an issue state-wide, not just one at MU. Joan Masters is the director of Missouri Partners in Prevention, a coalition of 21 colleges across the state of Missouri working to create safe and healthy college campuses.
“Mental health is just as important as our physical health, and everyone has mental health,” said Masters. “We shouldn't only worry about mental health when there's a crisis.”
Masters said that she regularly meets with a group of leaders from college counseling centers all across Missouri to discuss challenges and collaborate on solutions to help students. They have seen the demand for counseling services growing.
MU’s counseling center has seen an increase in student demand, even though total enrollment has decreased this past academic year, said Christy Hutton, assistant director for outreach and prevention at the MU Counseling Center.
The MU Counseling Center is different from the behavioral health services offered by the MU Student Health Center. Though both provide avenues for students to access counseling, they are funded through different streams. Appointments at the Counseling Center are entirely covered by the Student Activity fee.
Masters said the student fee is a positive way for MU to keep up with students’ mental health needs.
“I think it's tremendous that so many students voted in favor of this,” said Masters. “I'm not sure we would have that vote 15 or 25 years ago when mental health was still a very closeted issue.”
Student Daniaja Davis said she is glad the fee will equip the counseling center to serve more students. Participating in individual and group therapy at the counseling center changed her entire outlook at MU, said Davis.
“I am pretty sure I would not have made it here,” said Davis. “I wouldn't have made it through my sophomore year. I've just seen so many people who have used them and were greatly impacted by [MU Counseling Center] or who didn't use them and are not here anymore.”