Six students in a political communication capstone class created a petition to implement an online mental health screening feature to alleviate the LSU Student Health Center’s mental health service appointment wait times.
Mass communication senior Zoë Williamson, a student in the class, said several students in her group, “Students for Mental Health Access,” know others who have experienced problems scheduling mental health appointments at the University’s Student Health Center.
Williamson said, as a freshman she had issues with her mental health and sought help from the Health Center in early October, but could not get an appointment until after finals week that semester.
“Because students don’t think they can get the services that they need there, they don’t even try to,” Williamson said.
The students wrote in their research document that the Health Center has 14 therapists on staff to accommodate over 30,000 students, resulting in a ratio of nearly 2,300 students per therapist. The standard recommended ratio of mental health professionals to students is 1,000 students per therapist, according to their research.
This has caused students in non-crisis situations to wait an average of four to five weeks to get appointments.
“If someone’s having a mental health crisis, they can call a
hotline,” Williamson said. “But not everyone’s having a crisis — they just want to talk to someone and get advice.”
Before scheduling appointments, students are screened either over the phone or in person by a licensed counselor who determines the cases’ severity as part of the center’s triage system. The group concluded the best way to shorten wait times is through online screening.
The students referenced the University of Alabama’s online screening program in their research and believe it can be used by LSU. The screenings, conducted through a third-party company, give students guidance on treatment options without them having to consult a counselor. Online screening takes around two to five minutes and suggests treatments tailored to students based on their responses.
Williamson said this would benefit students who face long wait times because they can start receiving treatment that is specific to their needs before speaking with anyone. Treatment options would include those already listed on the Health Center’s website, such as group therapy. She said students may have difficulty navigating the website and using it to determine what treatment options to pursue.
“You can just be turned off by the whole idea of seeking help if it’s that hard to find it,” Williamson said.
Williamson said she and her group determined it would cost the University only $1,000 per year to implement the online screening program. She said the Health Center is open to the idea of it as long as the group can prove it’s something that students want.
The petition to implement the program was posted three weeks ago and has since received over 275 signatures of its 500 signature goal. It can be found at https://www.change.org/p/lousiana-state-university-implement-online-mental-health-screening-program-at-lsu.
Williamson’s capstone class is taught by Manship professor Robert Mann, who said the projects or campaigns his students pursue must be things that are feasible but are not so simple that they can be accomplished with a phone call.
He said he encourages his current students to expand upon the efforts and research of previous classes, and Williamson and her groupmates’ project was similar to another from several years ago, which was not completely successful.
“It was successful in the sense that it highlighted the disparity on campus,” Mann said. “[The previous group] did really incredible research, and they showed that LSU — a flagship university — was doing a worse job in providing mental health services to students than several other colleges and universities in this state.”
Mann said Williamson’s group’s campaign seems more achievable than the former. He said that even if the online program is not implemented this semester, future groups may be able to make it happen.
“I think they’re going to start the conversation, and I hope that next semester there will be a group that will take on this project and keep the push going,” Mann said.