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BYU's Struggle To Hire Enough Therapists Is A Need Felt Countrywide

Photo of BYU Campus.
BYU Photo / Abby Smith

The suicide of a 19-year-old Brigham Young University student last month sent shockwaves through the student body, causing many to ask whether the school was offering enough mental health support.

A number of BYU students took to Twitter to raise awareness about wait times for the campus therapy services.

In one tweet a student questioned if the school should consider shifting some of its funds from the football team to counseling. It was signed, “A student with a counseling appointment 2 months out.”

It’s a problem the university acknowledges, but it’s not unique to BYU. Similarly, this week Weber State University in Ogden announced a $300,000 grant to improve its on-campus counseling services. The university currently has a student-to-counselor ratio of 1-to-1,837, which they plan to improve with the added funds.

BYU administrators plan to add three part-time therapists in coming year with a goal to secure funding for even more.

“We do have an extended wait time and we are booked,” said Cari Jenkins, the head of University Communications at BYU.

Jenkins said that despite the counseling office being overbooked, BYU has recently upped its therapist count to 29. Which, to compare, is 10 more than the University of Utah which serves nearly the same size student body of 33,000.

“Is it enough? We would like to have some more,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said there is a crisis counselor available over the phone around the clock but when it comes to daily appointments, BYU is feeling the squeeze like most universities nationwide.

Over the past five years, universities across the country have reported a 30 to 40 percent increase in counseling appointment requests despite enrollment only increasing 5 percent, according to data from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

Barry Schreier, who represents the association, sees this increase as a positive thing. He thinks as therapy has become less stigmatized, students have sought it out more. But then comes the challenge of meeting the needs.

“Students don’t come with needs that are one size fits all,” Schreier said. “Some students show up with longer standing existential questions that they want to work through and some people come in full-throttle crisis.”

Schrier said about half of the students who see on-campus therapists report feelings of depression and anxiety. But he doesn’t believe this means they’re less equipped to deal with stress than prior generations.

“Within about five sessions, they feel better,” Schreier said.

On average, five sessions is about what students feel is necessary. But whether or not they can schedule five appointments is another question.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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