COLUMN: DePaul’s counseling services reflect priorities

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Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus

When I lost my dad nine months ago, I knew I needed help. The question of seeking counseling was not one of “if” but rather “how, when and where.”

Given the magnitude of the trauma, I knew I couldn’t wait too long before seeking help. Less than a month following the loss, I began sessions at DePaul’s University Counseling Services (UCS).

I was apprehensive going into my sessions: I knew I needed help, but how could I begin to express the pain I was feeling to a stranger when I could barely stand to think about it?

Luckily, my therapist helped me to feel comfortable and allowed me to set the sessions at my pace. Soon enough, I was able to express the depths of what I was feeling, as well as navigating unrelated issues of stress and anxiety.

I felt safe, understood and cared for and I am better for having sought help there. Which is why I am all the more upset that my sessions have to come to an end.

My sessions are not ending because my emotional struggles have faded into thin air or because I feel I have nothing more to gain from my treatment. Quite the opposite.

Last week, I reached my 20th session, the maximum amount afforded to students. Meaning if I am ever in need of professional help, I cannot utilize UCS ever again.

When I began my sessions, I was made aware of the 20-session limit and the notion of UCS being a temporary solution was not lost on me. As the 20th session began to creep closer and closer, however, I began to think of how unfair and downright irresponsible it is for the university to limit their students—and ultimately the department—in this way.

It was clear to me almost from the beginning of my treatment that proper funding is not being allocated for UCS. Each session costs $5, and while not an unreasonable amount to pay, it began to sting when I thought of the five-figure tuition bills DePaul sends my way three times a year.

The capacity for better funding is there if only the university thought it a priority.

What’s more, a proper lack of funding lessens the department’s overall capacity to help students.

DePaul has a total enrollment of 22,064, while UCS has a staff of 13, not including externs. By these numbers, it is all but impossible for every student at DePaul to gain access to sufficient care from the department.

While it would be equally impossible to appoint thousands of counselors to accommodate the needs of each and every student, such a small number is simply not enough for a generation riddled with mental health issues.

Generation Z is 27 percent more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association.

The same survey states that more than nine in 10 Generation Z adults said they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress, such as feeling depressed or sad. As an age group, we are not doing well.

The thing that really pisses me off, though, is the hypocrisy of it all.

How can DePaul boast their Vincentian mission —rooted in altruism and providing care to the needy— while at the same time, denying their students access to attainable services for taking care of their mental and emotional health?

How can they use their mission statement to attract prospective students and their families, line their wallets with their tuition dollars, and then offer them the bare minimum in terms of care for something as crucial as mental health?

I ask the administration to think of their students, who funnel thousands upon thousands of dollars each year into their pockets, with a large percentage living paycheck to paycheck.

I ask them to think of their students battling chronic mental illness without the luxury of insurance.

I ask them to think of their students who are relying on their university to provide care and resources to them, only to be given a narrow limit for provided health services.

If President Esteban wants to drastically improve the university’s rankings in ten years’ time, it is time the university begins treating students like human beings, rather than a certain number of zeros on a check.

Moving forward, I think I will be ok. As the final session approached, my therapist and I discussed how I would seek treatment following my time at UCS and I have a list of offices I can try out now that I cannot go back to the university for help. More importantly, I have health insurance, meaning the steep costs of treatment will be somewhat softened.

But I’m afraid to start over. Discussing the ways in which tragedy has irreversibly changed my life was not easy nine months ago, and it certainly is not easy now. Having to rebuild a foundation of trust when I felt so comfortable with my counselor sounds positively exhausting

and I am not looking forward to having to rehash the feelings of trauma, helplessness and isolation I felt and continue to feel following the loss.

I do not want to have to say goodbye again.

The issue of inadequate healthcare is not one that begins or ends with DePaul. As a nation, we are hemorrhaging ourselves financially for what is essentially a basic human right: care if you are sick or are in need of help.

But the university has a responsibility to do right by their students in a meaningful, palpable way. The bare minimum cannot serve a student body giving so much more than they get back, and it is time to stop accepting scraps from an institution designed to give us the best opportunities it can offer.