Fee removal marks first step in mental health care improvements
As of July 2018, Hofstra University stopped charging students a $30 copay for appointments at the Student Health and Counseling Center (SHACC). The maximum number of free appointments also increased from three appointments to 10. After 10 sessions, students must seek off-campus counseling.
Following a multitude of complaints across campus, several student activist groups worked feverishly to make these changes, including the Student Government Association (SGA), the Hofstra Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and the Democrats of Hofstra.
“Although there have been some positive steps taken in bettering this campus’ mental health services, such as eliminating the $30 copay, there are still leaps and bounds to be made,” said Brynne Levine, a sophomore public relations major and president of the Democrats of Hofstra. “The now two-to-three week waiting period for appointments must be addressed as well as the lack of accessible long-term care now that there is a 10-session limit.”
“When we said we wanted free counseling, we meant free, long-term counseling with mental health professionals that actually have degrees and can help us more than just a few free appointments,” said Sky Dellesala, junior film major. “I moved to off-campus counseling, but not many people are as fortunate to have that privilege. I have a car and health insurance and a therapist I trust. That’s pretty rare,” Dellesala said.
Another complaint among students is the lack of diversity among employees at SHACC.
“The fee was never the primary complaint. For the school to change it and then act as if they’ve solved the problem is disingenuous,” said Charles Timm, a sophomore political science, history and philosophy major. Timm also served as the former secretary of the Hofstra YDSA. “We deserve a more diverse range of counselors that more accurately reflect the diversity in the student body.”
The Hofstra YDSA is now an inactive club, yet its members still strive to participate in campus activism and keep the ideals of the club alive.
“Students have to call or go in person to make an appointment with the counseling center, which is one of the main reason[s] why I stopped going,” said Sophia Smith, a junior psychology major. “It made me anxious to have to make a call.”
Smith also suggested giving students the opportunity to make appointments online through the Hofstra Portal. Currently, the portal allows students to make other types of appointments with Student Health Services on the application, Medicat, which works for immunizations or sickness, but not for mental health care.
Smith further recommended starting an online chat where students can talk to professionals in a situation that causes less anxiety.
The Executive Director of Student Health and Counseling Services John Guthman acknowledges that mental health is a very pertinent issue, especially on college campuses. “Mental health, especially anxiety, is relevant nationally, across all types of people,” Guthman said. “Students end up falling into that group.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four young adults aged 18 to 24 have a diagnosed mental illness. More than 25 percent of college students have been treated for a mental health concern and more than 80 percent of college students felt overwhelmed on campus at some point in the school year.
Guthman explained that following the allotted 10 sessions, SHACC works to support students and find long-term therapy options in local communities outside of campus.
“Attempts are made to identify providers who are most suitable to address the clinical concerns identified,” Guthman said. “In most cases students are provided with several referral options to review or asked to obtain a list of local providers from their health insurance program that can be reviewed in consultation with SHACC counselors.”
On-call counselor Michael Accardo runs many group therapy sessions where students who have similar mental health concerns can come together to discuss these issues with peers and a professional in a welcoming and non-judgmental environment. These group therapy sessions are available to all students. The next session takes place on Friday, Dec. 14. Accardo’s sessions are free to all Hofstra students. There are also recovery groups, grief management groups and emotion management groups available for students.
Many schools in the New York metropolitan area also offer free mental health care. Columbia University, New York University (NYU), Pace University and Barnard College in New York City all provide free professional or peer services to students.
The lack of free services has even driven some students to transfer colleges.
“When I withdrew, for ‘reasons leaving’ I told [Hofstra] to offer better mental health services,” said Rachel Weisler, who transferred from Hofstra to Northeastern University in Boston at the end of the 2017-18 academic year.
“Counseling services at Northeastern are free. If you need something outside of therapy, like ... a neuropsych exam, you can get insurance through Northeastern which [helps to cover] costs or, if you have insurance, they send you to places close to you [that are] covered by the insurance you have,” Weisler said.
“The removal of the copay fee is a great first step,” Timm said. “But it is just that – a first step.”