Kansas colleges see a rise in cost of mental health care for students



November 22, 2019 - 3:35 PM

In the past year, the University of Kansas saw a 64 percent increase in students seeking mental health treatment for the first time. It's part of a statewide and national trend of college students experiencing more mental health issues. NOMIN UJIYEDIIN / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

When Dan Hoyt started graduate school at the University of Kansas in 2016, he knew he had anxiety and depression. He worried about being able to find a job after graduation. And, sometimes, he couldn’t get through his assigned reading.

“When you have anxieties, that gets impossible,” he said. “I’ll think about the same things over and over and over again.”

But when he reached out to KU’s counseling services, he was told he had to wait five months before he could get an appointment with a therapist at the Lawrence campus. And getting there from KU’s Overland Park campus, where he took classes, complicated things.

It was already hard enough to cope with depression, Hoyt said, and being denied immediate help felt even worse: “That’s the equivalent of just being told no.”

Hoyt needed treatment more quickly, and ended up seeing a private therapist who costs $63 a session after insurance.

Thousands of students at Kansas’s public universities have sought out mental health treatment, to the point that the Kansas Board of Regents says schools are spending more money on such care — though it couldn’t provide an exact total.

That’s why the regents plan to ask for more state funding in the 2020 session, according to board president and CEO Blake Flanders.

“Our demand for mental health services is growing dramatically on our campuses,” Flanders said. “I don’t anticipate that cost driver reducing.”

And it’s not just in Kansas: There’s a national trend of college students experiencing more anxiety and depression. Between 2007 and 2017, the rate of college students receiving mental health treatment rose from 19% to 34%.


Staff shortages

An influx of money would be well spent, said Pam Botts, a psychologist who helps run KU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The clinic provides individual and group therapy, psychiatric evaluations and education. It charges students $15 per therapy session — much less than a typical private therapist’s $100 or more an hour.

Since the KU center started drop-in appointments in February, it no longer has monthslong wait times for initial appointments. But, she said, it needs 10 more therapists to meet the demand. Plus, it could use more office space.

“Budget is an issue. We have no more funds,” she said. “If we had the funding, we would hire more clinicians.”

Between September 2018 and September 2019, CAPS saw a 64% increase in first-time appointments, Botts said. And the 13 therapists who currently work for CAPS can only see students once every three or four weeks, rather than the ideal of every other week.