The University’s failing counseling and mental health services

Any student who has had to call the University to access counseling services will first be told these words: “Just to let you know that we only offer short term therapy sessions, between 1 and 6 sessions” .

Anyone who has had to seek counseling knows that 1-6 months of counseling is next to useless, especially for long-term mental health issues, which many students who seek these services are most likely already suffering from. This shows the underfunding of University guidance that longer term support cannot be provided on campus – USyd being the most accessible location for students.

The solution to this problem is, according to the University, outsourcing to third parties: “If you need longer-term support, a member of the team will help you find an external provider”. Essentially, USyd says there is a pipeline from the University to third-party consulting services. The problem is that many students fall through the cracks of this pipeline.

An anonymous student, Alex*, told me that they had “little or no help in getting outside support”.

“I had to put myself on the waitlist and had trouble finding another service,” they said.

The other problem with transferring to third-party providers is that you are starting from scratch with the new therapist – thus making the college counseling service at best a questionnaire that passes issues on to another service. At worst, it’s a waste of time, making students feel useless and abandoned.

Others say it is very easy to go unnoticed with these services. In another anonymous testimony, Morgan* told me that mental health follow-ups were often inconsistent. “I missed a session […] they called once and then didn’t answer at any time […] the University has forgotten me and left me on the side of the road”.

Some students were even placed on waiting lists, causing them to drop out.

“I applied for the services and waited two months before I just gave up,” said another anonymous student. The transfers would be useful in theory were it not for a bigger problem facing Australia’s mental health service. The problem is that there simply aren’t enough providers or advisors to meet the demand. There is especially not enough for young people, 20% of whom need mental health support.

Those who need long-term support only get 12 Medicare-covered sessions, which means people from disadvantaged backgrounds can’t afford the additional recommended sessions of mental health support. An alternative offered by the University is its “Psychology Clinic” which provides adult therapy, with students paying $10 per session. That sounds like a lot, but what’s the catch?

USyd says the clinic is staffed by less experienced professionals. “Our clinical psychologist trainees, [work] under the close guidance of their clinical psychology supervisors,” the website reads. This means that the best long-term psychology option available to students is to be with an intern psychologist. It’s a good option for most, but some don’t feel comfortable or think their case may be too complex for a trainee psychologist, but it’s the best option for students who don’t have the ways to pay.

Now these services sound great, but the biggest barrier to accessing these services is knowledge they exist in the first place.

Many students are unaware of these services and are never referred to them. As a result, the University is failing to help students with mental health, especially since mental health issues among young people are on the rise and access to these services is a necessity. There are too few counseling services, USyd’s third-party service pipeline is driving students away, and the best long-term affordable option is to be looked at by a trainee psychologist, which doesn’t inspire many hope.

The University will need to increase funding and expand these services so students can stay up to date until they can transfer. At the same time, the federal government must help cover the psychological needs of students through Medicare or the NDIS. Until then, unless these measures are enforced, it appears that the mental health of USyd students will remain inadequate.

*name has been changed for anonymity

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