*For the sake of privacy, patient names have been omitted or changed.
As a freshman on the University of Florida’s campus, one might occasionally hear antidotal stories about wait times and expenses at the UF Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC). Are there really wait times for students seeking appointments and mental health resources at the counseling center? Are free or affordable mental health services available? The answers to both questions are a little more complex than a simple yes or no.
Are there wait times for appointments at the UF CWC?
According to an email from Dr. Rosa West, a clinical assistant professor and the assistant director of outreach and consultation, students who are in crisis can be seen immediately at the CWC.
“In short, the earliest you can be seen by a counselor at the CWC is today (between the hours of 9 to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday),” she said.
However, students who are not experiencing a crisis usually schedule a triage appointment with the CWC. West explained that the CWC tries not to schedule triage appointments further out than two weeks from when patients call to schedule.
Kristen, a UF student who asked that Her Campus UFL only use her first name in order to protect her privacy, said her appointment with the CWC was within two weeks of when she called to schedule it.
She also said, “Honestly, when I called them, there have been times where I thought that was a little bit like far away because I felt like I really needed that help now versus later, but then I also understand that they’re busy. It is almost like a doctor’s office so in a sense, it is reasonable.”
UF student Jane* said she also found the wait too long.
“The first time I called, I called the crisis hot line, and they told me to come in right away,” Jane said. “When I went in that day, it was like I was on the edge of a mental breakdown.”
Jane said she was seen for about five minutes before being told she would have to schedule an appointment. The earliest appointment she could get was about a week and a half later. She found this wait time unacceptable.
“Considering what I was going through, no, that was not reasonable at all,” she said. “I just feel like they weren’t really caring about the situation I was in. I was just like ‘well, what’s gonna happen a week and a half from now? I’m already on the edge of everything now.’”
Jane said she was even put on hold for 15 minutes when she originally called the crisis hotline. She credits her roommate with ensuring that no harm came to her. As she said, “The only reason I was still okay is because after that 15 minutes when somebody got back on the phone, my roommate just so happened to walk in and see me on the floor. If it wasn’t for my roommate, really what would have happened?”
Are free or affordable mental health resources available?
According to West, the CWC does not charge for services (e.g. on-call/crisis services, triage, groups/workshops). She explained that part of the health fee included in tuition pays for the services, but students must be registered during the semester in which they are seeking help from the CWC. The CWC only provides short-term counseling, but for more extensive counseling and therapy, the CWC does work with students to find community providers.The CWC provider will talk with the student about costs for on-going mental health care and their insurance plans and work to connect that student with the appropriate counselor, West said.
Kristensaid she found free resources at the CWC, but mental health resources off campus in the community were less affordable.
Jane said that she had trouble finding affordable, more long term mental health providers in the community with her insurance at the time.
Mental health resources in general
Although UF does offer mental health resources to students, as West admitted, the demand for these resources is high, and the resources are not perfect. West said the rise in demand for these services at UF seems to be in accordance with a larger national trend on college campuses.
“Unfortunately, the increased need/demand for mental health services does mean that there can be limitations in what may be available for students,” she said. “That said, I believe the UF campus has a strong network to support student mental health. However, the amount of resources available at times is insufficient.”
Jane said she no longer uses any of the CWC’s services after her experience and feels that mental health resources on campus are far from perfect.
“I feel like they just focus too much on trying to get everyone in and out, and so it feels like they don’t really care about what everyone’s going through and about the mental health of the students here,” she said. “We’re going through a lot. We need help, and just a quick in-and-out doesn’t really help me. It makes me feel like ‘who cares, on to the next person.’”
Kristen said she felt that the CWC did help her despite its shortcomings.
“Although the CWC does have its fallbacks and its cons, it has done a great deal of help for me,” Kristen said. “I can honestly say that I have developed so much as a person because of the CWC and because of my nurse practitioner who’s nothing short of amazing.”
(If you or someone you know is in need of immediate help, please call 911, the UF CWC at 352-392-1575, the Alachua County Crisis Center at 352-264-6789 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for English/1-888-628-9454 for Spanish. Online chats are also available as well as hotlines specifically for LGBTQ+ youth and Trans youth.)
Disclaimer: Carson Leigh Olson has used the services of the UF Counseling and Wellness Center personally.