By Leo Brine
Hofstra’s wellness center, The Student Health and Counseling Center (SHACC), has a counseling policy that can be costly for students suffering from serious mental health complications.
When receiving counseling a student is entitled one intake session followed by three free counseling sessions. Students who wish to continue with counseling have to pay $30 per additional session. Students can request a waiver of the fee but that is not guaranteed and is based on the SHACC’s assessment of their needs.
However, when it comes to mental health, three is not the magic number, explained sophomore psychology major Serena Payne. “Saltzman was just the four free trips, but I really wanted to keep doing it, but they were like ‘we need cash.’ And I thought insurance would cover it, but no.” Payne said. “That threw me for a trip.” Payne’s experience with counseling services were not enough for her, and after her free meetings expired in October, she stopped going.
According to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, Hofstra University is part of the 8 percent of schools in America that charge for counseling services. Molloy College, Adelphi University, Long Island University and Stony Brook all offer free counseling sessions to enrolled students. Hofstra’s fee is a major deterrent for many students – especially when a large portion of the school is receiving need-based scholarships.
Mental health issues plague college campuses. Anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder and depression are all too common at any university. These, along with other mental-health-related ailments, contribute to suicide being the second greatest killer of Americans ages 15-24, according to a 2013 report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health’s annual report, last year 33.2 percent of college students had seriously considered attempting suicide.
Payne was flagged when she went to SHACC after she marked off that she had been depressed for the past two weeks. When a staff member asked her if she was receiving any help for it she told them, “No, I can’t afford it.” Dr. John Guthman, the executive director of SHACC, explained that the center will work with students to ensure they can get the help they need. “The clinician will make the decision based on a number of factors … It’s situational and we try to be fair,” Guthman said. “[Students] are responsible for the fee.”
SHACC offers free options for students in the form of group therapy, a 24-hour call center and consultations. “We have more consultations than other things,” Guthman said. However, the $30 fee deters many students from going to get help. In a video posted to Facebook by senior English major Jessica Day, she expresses her frustrations with the fee, “Yes, it’s only 30 bucks, but 30 bucks is a lot when you can barely even afford to feed yourself.” The video has since been viewed over 2,000 times and Day has received numerous messages from fellow students who experienced the same frustrations.
“It kills me to think that Hofstra can spend X amount of money building a new building for the Zarb School of Business … but they cannot afford to waste any money on their own students’ health,” Day said.
The fee itself goes into the Hofstra proper, which is the university’s general budget. Andrew Sperling is the director of Legislative Advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). He said, “When in the case of college students we believe that the university has an obligation to make sure that students get access to the treatment they need … getting copays out of students who have literally no income is not a good idea.”
According to Guthman, counseling services are supposed to be a “brief” 10 sessions. After the 10 sessions, the staff at SHACC will try and find students a different place to receive treatment. Sophomore Lydia Oh says that 10 sessions are not enough to fix anything. “You could have people who don’t open up in 10 sessions. Breakthroughs might not be made until much later,” she said.
In Day’s post she asked that students share their feelings with the hashtag #HUhealthnow. There is even a Twitter account encouraging student activism on the problem. Students share statistics on mental health issues facing college students and on various social media platforms, tagging Hofstra University when they do along with the aforementioned hashtag.
Although Day is graduating and ready to move on, she said, “I sure as hell don’t want to see some kid killing themselves because they couldn’t get the fucking resources that they needed.”