Mental wellness is not a money problem

UCS Lobby
A picture of the University Counseling Services office. (Photo by Nicolas Telep)

By the time you read this column, this year’s student elections are either almost over or already decided. The question of whether to raise the student health fee to increase access to mental health care on campus will be settled. However, if betting were legal on campus, I would put my money on this being settled long before it was even on the ballot.

“Mental health” has become what rhetoricians call a “god term” at Truman State University. It’s powerful and people are moved by it, but nobody really knows what it means. Mental health issues are complicated and — above all — individual. A “mental health problem on campus” is hard to define and even harder to solve, no matter how many answers people say they have.

This is not to say we shouldn’t care about mental wellness on campus. Truman has lost more students to suicide than any community deserves. More students than we would like to admit are miserable. Some are good at hiding it, some are not. Most students would agree that Truman is a tough school. But this isn’t something we should make into a competition, and students should remember that. In a community where stories about being an overworked, overtired “Typical Truman Student” have become punchlines, there’s obviously something to be done about the mindset of the campus.

Student Government proposed raising the student health fee by $10 to increase access to psychological or psychiatric care through University Counseling Services, according to the ballot resolution. This seems to be a step in the right direction, but I’m skeptical of how much the increased fee can do.

Dave Rector, vice president for administration, finance and planning, said in an interview for The Index last semester the goal of the University is to keep enrollment around 6,200 students. At roughly these levels, the fee would raise $62,000 for mental health care on Truman’s campus, give or take a few thousand dollars.

Truman could certainly use assistance, but that $62,000 will run out very quickly. Student Government has explored other potential funding sources, such as a partnership with A.T. Still University, but raising student fees should wait until a solid plan is in place. I know it’s only $10, but if it’s important enough for me to vote on, it’s important enough for me to know exactly where it’s going. Additionally, Student Government seems to be an unnecessary middle-man in this situation. If the money is eventually going to end up with UCS, I’d like to know why I’m not paying UCS directly. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation, but I’d like to hear that explanation before I vote. Seriously, if you have an explanation, let me know or write a letter to the editor. I’d like to hear it.

As Truman students we tend to think more or less as a unit, and that means that mental health issues end up affecting everyone on our campus. Many people have stepped up and asked, “What can we do?” in the face of crisis and suicides. One particularly good effort I applaud is the Positive Peers support group founded by Enactus members focusing on mental wellness. This is a constructive act by some committed members of the community to do their part for as many people as they can. This won’t solve every problem or be the right fit for every individual, but we should not be afraid to seek solutions that acknowledge the differences in our struggles instead of looking for the “magic bullet” solution, where we can pat ourselves on the back and say well done.

It’s easy to get disheartened when the state government has cut our funding to a bare minimum, and the natural reaction might be to call for extra money for those one-size-fits-all solutions. But keep in mind each one of them has their own individual story and their own trials and tribulations you might never understand, but let’s not have stress competitions or try to outdo one another. Let’s work toward the healthy environment we want and deserve.

In case you’ve gotten all the way through this thinking I’m a Truman hater, know that I wouldn’t leave this school except through expulsion or graduation. I care deeply about this community and all the people here. I want the best for me, for you and for every individual who twists their ankle on our lovely brick sidewalks until Baldwin Hall turns to dust. Go Bulldogs!