Health service lacking funds, staff


Health service lacking funds, staff


By Elise Ma
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Since last week's shootings at Virginia Tech, officials at UCLA's Student Psychological Services have received many more calls than usual from people reporting concerns about other students.

While SPS has set up specific services to address the incident, it is also working to expand its general services in response to research suggesting college students require more mental health assistance than is currently offered.

And though SPS offers various services both in person and online, funding remains problematic, and some students said they are unsatisfied with both the quality of the staff and the availability of appointments.

"Short-staffed, we try to do what we can and are usually pretty successful in addressing the needs of most students who come in, but it would be easier for the staff here to manage if there were more of us," said Elizabeth Gong-Guy, SPS clinical director.

Christina, a first-year English student who asked to be identified by her middle name, said she was dissatisfied with her visit to SPS, specifically noting concerns about the conduct of the psychologist she met with.

She said at her appointment she was surprised to be met by a graduate student trainee, who immediately asked, "Do you mind if I record this? I want to study this later."

"It really turned me off because it seemed very unprofessional to me," Christina said. "I didn't want someone who is just 5 years older than me to use my therapy session for practice."

The environment made her feel uncomfortable, so she did not return to SPS. Instead, she decided to return to the therapist she went to at home, she said.

Gong-Guy said some students prefer one-on-one counseling with graduate student trainees, who are supervised by the professional clinicians on the SPS staff, and that students have the option of requesting a different counselor.

"A lot of psychotherapy is about the match between the clinician and client, and sometimes it takes one or two tries to get a good fit," she said.

Another concern some students had with SPS is the amount of time they had to wait to get an appointment.

Tiger Curran, a second-year communications studies student, said she tried to make an appointment during her freshmen year when she was feeling depressed and homesick, but could not get an appointment for three weeks.

"Those things should be taken care of within a reasonable amount of time," she said. "What if I was really suicidal or something? 'Come back in two weeks.' Are you kidding me?"

Curran said by the time the appointment came around, she was asked to reschedule since SPS could not offer her the original time, though by then she was no longer in her "winter slump."

In an effort to make mental health assistance more available to students, SPS has in recent years introduced new services, including walk-in counseling, Gong-Guy said.

Since SPS began offering walk-in appointments, the number of students seeking counseling has jumped 30 percent, she added.

SPS also offers group counseling, couples counseling, stress clinics, Web resources, online brochures and urgent counseling services including walk-ins and crisis counselors available 24 hours a day via telephone.

And after the shootings at Virginia Tech, additional resources have been made available on the SPS Web site, including an online screening to check for symptoms of distress, suggestions for dealing with distress, and a discussion group to be held next week.

"An event like this, because it is so tragic and has national, local and personal implications, raises people's levels of vulnerability. It is important to reach out, and we're hoping people would come for that," Gong-Guy said.

Last quarter, the Undergraduate Students Association Council organized its first Mental Health Awareness Week.

One purpose of the week was to remove the stigma from psychological issues, said USAC General Representative Joline Price.

"The more students who feel comfortable getting help and knowing they are not alone, the better our campus is as a whole," Price said.

She added that she believes extending SPS's hours could help encourage students to use the services.

The University of California has begun diverting more resources toward its campuses' counseling services.

In a 2006 student mental health report, the UC Board of Regents said counseling services on its campuses are understaffed and underfunded, even as campuses are seeing an increasing number of students with severe mental health issues.

In March 2007, the Board of Regents voted to set aside 43 percent of its revenue from a 7-percent increase of registration fees, accumulating $4.6 million to fund UC mental health services for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

UCLA SPS plans to use the additional funding to increase its staff.

"With more clinicians, we could do more of what we need to do. We could reduce the amount of time in between appointments, offer more groups, more services," Gong-Guy said.


Original Source: <a href=>The Daily Bruin - April 24, 2007</a>


Elise Ma


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